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UNM regents vote to increase tuition, student fees

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

Noah Brooks has a history of fighting tuition increases. He spoke against a possible hike during the University of New Mexico’s 2017 budget summit and has spent most of the current academic year opposing the idea of raising student costs.

But on Thursday, the president of UNM’s undergraduate student body told the Board of Regents he had changed his mind.

Like several students who spoke before him, Brooks voiced support for a proposal from the main campus’s Budget Leadership Team that would raise tuition by 2.5 percent, impose an additional $7 per credit hour premium for upper division and some graduate classes, and increase fees by 2.39 percent.

Officials say the new revenue would help pay for campus safety projects, faculty retention efforts and new teaching support for the core curriculum. It would also provide about $443,000 more in student financial aid, which Brooks described as an essential component.

“I believe that the proposal put forth by the BLT really checks all the boxes of everything students need on campus,” Brooks said.

The regents subsequently approved the tuition hike. They also approved a BLT recommendation of a 1 percent pay raise for faculty and staff who have satisfactory performance evaluations. UNM has not offered an across-the-board salary increase since 2014-15, but the Legislature appropriated extra funding this year that will cover most of the cost.

A year ago, regents significantly reduced a tuition hike proposed by the BLT, which had support from faculty and staff leaders but not student leaders. Last year, the regents ultimately approved just raising graduate tuition and imposing an $18 per credit hour premium on upper division and some graduate courses.

But this year’s recommendation came to the regents with unanimous approval from the BLT, which includes students, students, faculty, staff and administrators. This year’s group started meeting last fall.

“I will tell you it’s the best process I’ve witnessed at any university,” new UNM President Garnett Stokes told the regents in expressing her support for the proposal.

Several students who also spoke Thursday said they favored the proposal.

The tuition and fee increase will affect students differently depending on their course mix.

Undergraduate students will pay anywhere from $88 to $214 more per semester, according to UNM figures.

The increase is designed to affect first- and second-year students the least, as they are more likely to drop out than those further along in their academic careers.

In addition, UNM faces increasing competition for students from less-expensive alternatives like community colleges – especially amid cuts to the state’s lottery scholarship program. The scholarship’s value dropped this year to 60 percent of tuition coverage from 90 percent in 2016-17.

Terry Babbitt, vice provost for enrollment management and analytics, told regents that UNM has lost 17,000 lower division credit hours this year.

If enrollment remains unchanged, the tuition hike will yield an extra $4.4 million for 2018-19, though Babbitt said projections are for another decline in the head count.

UNM’s 2018-19 funding priorities include:

• $415,000 in campus safety initiatives, such as lighting, security cameras, a new security position within the UNM Police Department and an online therapy program;

• A $350,000 subsidy for the University of New Mexico Press;

• $200,000 for a graduate teaching fellows program to support faculty who teach the core curriculum;

• $281,000 for faculty retention and $532,000 for faculty promotions.

In urging the regents to approve the proposal, Arts and Sciences Dean Mark Peceny spoke about the value of making new investments, including in the people who help advance the academic mission, and particularly after years of budget cuts.

“I think (the budget) will give our faculty hope that we’ve reached bottom and we can stop the hemorrhaging, we can start to regain that momentum,” he said. “If we don’t, every dean in this university knows that faculty may leave, and this is why this is such an important point for this institution.”

Only Regent Michael Brasher – who was appointed to the board the previous day by Gov. Susana Martinez – voted against the proposal. He expressed particular reservations about funding for campus safety, saying, “It doesn’t seem adequate. This is a huge campus.”

Stokes, who stepped into the presidency March 1, assured the board she planned to make safety a high priority of her administration.

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