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UNM’s Tech Dept. Seeks Fee Increase

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Those in charge of the University of New Mexico’s wireless Internet, classroom technology and shared computers are asking for $3 million in student fees next year to cover costs.

That’s more than 10 times the amount students paid this school year.

Until two years ago, the services provided by UNM’s Information Technologies Department were paid by tuition and state money. But budget cuts forced the department to turn to student fees, which it received for the first time in 2010.

The department now wants an increase in fee money, from $231,000 this school year to $3 million next year. Full-time students who currently pay $10 a year in fees for information services would pay $128 instead. Students pay fees on top of tuition.

Students, administrators and regents involved in the decision-making process are grappling with the question of which information technology functions should fall under basic university services and which should be subsidized by fees.

The Student Fee Review Board, comprised of five undergraduate and two graduate students, has until March 1 to come up with a proposed allocation for the 27 organizations seeking almost $17 million in student fee funding. The recommendations will go to UNM administrators and then the regents.

Finance Associate Vice President Andrew Cullen is one of the administrators helping the review board budget fees.

He said there are information technology services that should be funded by student fees and others that simply shouldn’t, like the proposal to spend $982,000 in fees to replace and upgrade classroom computers, printers and projectors.

“That’s an instructional cost. When you pay your tuition, you should kind of assume that you’re going to go to class, and the professor is going to have the projector up,” Cullen said. “I think that when you talk about wireless, I think student fees should be funding a portion of that wireless. They’re using it for everything.”

IT Department officials say student fee funding is crucial to providing basic services such as free printing, wireless Internet capabilities and “student facing portals,” the term for computers available for student use all around campus. Students get $10 worth of free printing each semester.

There is just not enough money to keep providing the services students seek, and UNM risks losing a competitive edge among other universities, said Moira Gerety, deputy chief information officer for Information Technologies.

Last year, the department lost $2 million in funding from state appropriations. The department has a budget of $27 million.

“One of the things that came up was, we clearly are not funded adequately in general. I mean, everybody’s got that complaint, we’re not different. But we are different in the sense that demands for technology are growing, they’re not shrinking. Whether it’s support to cellphones, whether it’s technology in classrooms, the way our students expect to do their work is much more technologically enabled than it was 10 years ago, even. It’s just very different,” Gerety said.

She said $3 million next year is not unreasonable, but she would be satisfied with getting at least $1 million.

Gerety said universities similar to UNM charge students an average of $215 in student fees each year for the services, leaving UNM “woefully behind.”

“… We said we have got to do something,” she said. “And so maybe this is a radical notion, but we wanted to put the radical notion out there and say, ‘Let’s talk about it.’ ”

Student review board chairwoman Katie Richardson also said funding to replace and upgrade classroom equipment should not come from student fees.

Several groups have requested an increase in funding, including Athletics and University Libraries. Meanwhile, students on the review board are hoping to actually decrease student fees next year. They voted last month to lower the baseline for fees to $460 per student. This year’s fees were $486.

Regent President Jack Fortner said he anticipates a difficult decision-making process when the board allocates student fees. He said regents wanted higher student fee funding for Information Technologies last year but decided against it, at students’ request.

“I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong philosophy that things like IT, which provides essential services to students, should be tuition-funded or fee funded, or a combination,” Fortner said. “I don’t think anyone would dispute that it needs more money.”
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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