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Higher education spending is a safe investment for New Mexico

Garrey Carruthers

Over the years I served as chancellor at New Mexico State University, the state didn’t have additional resources to spend on anything, including higher education. Hence, universities had to trim budgets, eliminate programs, reduce faculty and staff, and, in most cases, increase tuition, albeit by very small amounts. The state had to do the same, but higher education took a disproportionate share – 44 percent – of the reductions in state expenditures.

This year, with new money available, the leadership of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the many members of the Legislature who value and are willing to invest in the potential and promise of higher education, the worm turned some. To wit, as the result of this recent legislative session:

  • The overall budget for higher education institutions statewide will be $822 million, a 3 percent increase over last year.
  • There was $112.5 million allocated for capital expenditures in SB 280 alone.
  • The budget provided for $62 million in student financial aid, $20 million for college affordability and $20 million for teachers.
  • The Instruction and General increase alone was $28 million, and compensation was $24 million.
  • There was $3.67 million – non-recurring – in the junior bills allocated for higher education.

Happy days are here again – almost – because higher education still has not returned to the financial health of years ago. Increasing tuition was discouraged by the previous administration and, frankly, it is always (a) difficulty to achieve in either good or bad times. However, according to a recent study, the rate of return for college student investment in higher education in the U.S. was highest in Wyoming, with New Mexico a close second. This is because these states have been financially very supportive of higher education, good federal aid programs and scholarships and very affordable tuition at our New Mexico colleges and universities. When folks are concerned about increasing tuition, remember it is much needed to maintain quality of our higher education programs. The rate of return on investment for our students is very high.

With new resources available, institutions of higher learning may now elevate their respective profiles and boost their workforce training initiatives. The four centers of excellence at research institutions now authorized and funded will lay pathways for talented young adults to take root in their community in exciting growth industries like bioscience and value-added agriculture. In a time of declining enrollment and student financial aid crunches, New Mexico’s higher ed institutions will be both proactive in establishing ease of access for New Mexico students and responsive to student needs. Legislation this session also made it easier for N.M. students to count AP credit toward college courses.

Happy days are here again – once more, almost – but I look to the governor and the Legislature to continue to consistently support and champion higher education, one of the most important engines of economic development and quality of life in our great state. Happy days are ahead!

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