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Wednesday, April 13, 2011
UNM Ups Tuition But Not Fees
By James Monteleone
Journal Staff Writer
Student and employee representatives applauded University of New Mexico's budget for next year, which keeps a lid on higher costs for students while putting more money than earlier proposed toward academics.
UNM regents Tuesday approved a 5.5 percent increase in student costs, charging full-time undergraduates an additional $304 next year. Students will pay $5,809 in tuition and fees for two semesters — $71 less than the university administration first proposed.
"I'm satisfied," undergraduate student President Lazaro Cardenas said. "I'd have to say the regents, the administration, the staff, the faculty and the students really came together in this process. Although there was an increase in tuition, there was still agreement."
After months of wrestling over a $250 million instruction and general budget at UNM's main campus, the final approval of tuition and fees Tuesday came down to a debate over about $20 per student. The vote was 5-2, with Regents Jamie Koch and Gene Gallegos voting no because they wanted students to pay a little more to create a budget "cushion."
The budget no longer includes nearly $3.9 million proposed by the administration to offset state-mandated pension payment increases for faculty and staff, but it does make broad investments in academics. For example, it includes money to hire new faculty and to protect the academic colleges from previously proposed cuts.
Students are pleased to see fees held steady while having their tuition increase go toward UNM's academic mission, Cardenas said.
"Paying $305 (more) doesn't make anything easier, but it really does put some minds at ease to know that's where our money is going," he said.
The budget's investment of new money in academics, despite about $5.4 million in state cuts to the instructional budget, shows the university's commitment to the classroom, said College of Fine Arts interim Dean Jim Linnell.
"It's not just a good budget for academics, but a very good budget," said Linnell, representing the college deans.
The university can afford the changes because it deleted the funding to cover the employees pension increase, a plan that had come under fire from Gov. Susana Martinez.
Regents on Tuesday set only the tuition hike. The complete university budget — exceeding $2 billion in spending — will be considered April 29. Included in the tuition increase is a state-mandated tuition credit, which means UNM had to either bill $176 to students or lose the equivalent amount of state funding next year.
After debate over a fee increase, regents chose to follow the student recommendation that fees not be raised. Undergraduate students now pay $1,158 in annual fees. On the table had been $40 in extra fees for athletics, campus computers, the fitness center and the library.
Regent President Jack Fortner said the fees were presented as an option because those areas need more money.
"They (students) don't want to pay for it. They don't want to have extra fees, so we respected their request," Fortner said.
"I think it's something that has to be discussed year-round," he said. "When they (students) come to us next year, they're going to be complaining" about inadequate funding.
Koch and Gallegos voted against the 5.5 percent hike because they wanted students to pay an extra $22 a year to create a budget "cushion" of about $400,000. Had it been approved, the cushion would have pushed the total increase to 5.9 percent.
But that new money would end up going toward unplanned and irresponsible spending, Regent Don Chalmers countered.
"That $20 this year would be the base next year and go on and on. There's no question if we have the money, we're going to spend it," Chalmers said.
Gallegos said the added money could begin to help employees earning less than $50,000, who will suffer a net 1.75 percent loss in pay because of the increased employee pension payments.
"I don't think we can let this matter go of these employees working harder but being paid less. We've got to do something for them," Gallegos said.
No other action was taken on faculty and staff compensation.
However, UNM President David Schmidly has proposed that a one-year increase in pay for staff and merit bonuses for faculty be reconsidered in the fall if student enrollment increases and creates additional tuition revenues.
Merle Kennedy, representing the UNM staff, said the administration's effort to protect the low-paid workers is meaningful.
"I think this is a diluted version, but at least it's something," Kennedy said of Schmidly's proposed pay increase. "What it really means is the administration cares and is committed to helping."