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Higher education cuts unlikely, but some colleges could lose

New Mexico State University President Garrey Carruthers answers questions during a discussion on higher education Tuesday in the House Appropriations and Finance Committee. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – After the state reduced its funding over the past two years, higher education as a whole should not undergo further budget cuts in 2019.

But some colleges and universities may still wind up losing.

While both the Legislative Finance Committee and the Higher Education Department have recommended flat higher education spending for the year that begins July 1, many schools could receive less state money based on a performance-based funding formula.

New Mexico Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron said rewarding success is a smart way to allocate tax dollars.

“You’re paying for outcomes,” Damron told the House Appropriations and Finance Committee during a higher education discussion Tuesday.

But some higher education representatives say the formula can sometimes hurt even schools that are making strides.

Damron’s department has recommended setting aside 6.5 percent of the $565 million in “instruction and general” money the state will appropriate to the schools, and redistributing it to institutions based on measures such as total certificates and degrees awarded. The Legislative Finance Committee has proposed running 4 percent of the funding, about $22 million, through the performance formula.

Both scenarios mean 15 of 24 institutions would receive less state funding. New Mexico State University-Alamogordo and Luna Community College would take the biggest hit, while the biggest winners would be Central New Mexico Community College and Western New Mexico University.

Becky Rowley, president of Clovis Community College and head of the New Mexico Independent Community Colleges group, called the formula “a tremendous step forward” but cautioned that it has had some unintended results.

“There are colleges that are improving their numbers; they do have increases in degree production, in the other important metrics within the formula, and yet they’re still receiving a cut,” she said. “I’m beginning to think in some ways the only way they’re not going to receive a cut is if some other colleges in our sector don’t perform well, which seems like a really odd thing for anybody to ask for.”

The New Mexico Independent Community Colleges is among the groups asking the state to put an additional 2 percent funding into the performance-based funding pool to soften the blow, leaving only six institutions with declining appropriations.

New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers told the committee he’d like to see school leaders, legislators and regents convene this summer to further analyze the formula to determine whether it needs changes.

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