Students can't afford to be regent - Albuquerque Journal

Students can’t afford to be regent

New Mexico State University is set to become the first higher education institution in the state to award a scholarship to their student regent. Other universities should do the same.

This scholarship change, which was approved by the NMSU Board of Regents at its last regular meeting, is long overdue and should be emulated by its peers.

The governing boards at New Mexico’s public universities — NMSU, the University of New Mexico, Eastern New Mexico University, Western New Mexico University, New Mexico Tech, New Mexico Highlands University and Northern New Mexico College – each include one student as a voting member. Our state’s Constitution says the governor will select these student regents with “the advice and consent of the Senate” from a list provided by the president of each institution. The list is to be formed with “due consideration to the recommendations” of the institution’s student body president.

Being a regent requires a substantial time commitment; it is a sacrifice that many students cannot afford to make. Student regents cannot be employed by the university because it is widely perceived as a conflict of interest. However, it is often hard to find an off-campus employer that can accommodate a full-time student’s schedule, let alone the schedule of a student regent.

In too many cases, this has left the student regent positions to those who are either willing to take out larger amounts in student loans or those whose families can afford to financially support the full cost of tuition and living expenses out of pocket, so that student regents can volunteer hours as public servants. According to a recent report by the National Center for Children in Poverty, 55% of New Mexico families are already living in low-income circumstances. Unpaid public service can create undo financial hardship for students coming from these homes. This has eliminated a perspective that has potential to change outcomes for many students in New Mexico and should be heard.

Public service and the ability to assist in building a better future for an institution are invaluable experiences that should not be reserved only for students who can afford to pay the full cost of tuition and living expenses for the duration of their term. Public service should not become a financial burden to those who want to serve. By providing a scholarship to those serving as student regent, institutions open the role to students from all financial backgrounds.

A scholarship that covers even a portion of tuition can go a long way toward easing the financial burden of serving and making the position accessible to students who are part of the student population that has historically been underrepresented.

Not every student should be named to the Board of Regents, but every student should have a real chance to try. Then, if they are qualified enough to be nominated by the governor and confirmed by the Senate, they deserve every resource necessary to succeed as a student and as a regent.

Balancing college and public service presents enough of a challenge without having to worry about making ends meet. Extending a student leadership scholarship to student regents may not solve the problem entirely, but it’s a step in the right direction.

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