UNM reaccredited for the next decade - Albuquerque Journal

UNM reaccredited for the next decade

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

The University of New Mexico will remain an accredited institution for the next decade, although additional reporting and monitoring of the university will be required in the coming years.

News of reaccreditation was welcomed by university officials, who announced it Thursday. UNM has been accredited through the Higher Learning Commission since 1922, and not earning that credential would not only have hurt the university’s reputation but also affected student aid.

“The first and most important takeaway is that … the HLC saw we have excellent academics, excellent faculty, excellent support for our students and reaccredited the university for another 10 years,” Provost James Paul Holloway said.

The additional monitoring requirements include a “focused visit” by January 2022 about steps taken to address fiscal mismanagement within the athletic department and the Board of Regents’ role at UNM, according to a letter sent last month to UNM President Garnett Stokes from Barbara Gellman-Danley, president of the HLC, the agency tasked with accrediting UNM.

The HLC said in its report that in the past 10 years, UNM has “been on a steady path of continuous improvement under the leadership of veteran administrators serving in interim positions.” UNM, in that time, had a 23.5% increase in the four-year graduation rate, which is now at 34.5%, and significant growth in sponsored research at the Health Sciences Center and on the Main Campus, according to the HLC’s report.

Those improvements happened despite challenges the university faced. The HLC pointed out that in the past 10 years, UNM has had a significant turnover in upper administration and regents, along with a 20% inflation-adjusted reduction in its state-allocated instructional and general budget.

The HLC’s review of UNM included interviews with more than 30 current and former UNM officials, visits to UNM campuses and reviews of documents.

The review did find several problems with the university that will require monitoring. Those problems were primarily related to the role regents have in day-to-day activities and athletic department finances. But the HLC report indicates its review team thinks UNM has improved on both fronts recently.

For example, the athletic department is faced with a nearly $5 million deficit reduction plan because the department failed to make budget eight times during a 10-year period. The HLC credited UNM for additional oversight it has put on the department, but the agency said additional monitoring is needed because those controls are relatively new.

The HLC also reported several problems with UNM’s regents overreaching into campus operational matters, such as demanding changes in the design of a new building and meeting with deans to discuss specific issues.

The accrediting body spoke with current and former regents and other university officials, reviewed minutes of meetings and read “self studies” that were written by several former regents and faculty groups. The Journal reported on those self studies, some of which were written by former regents who criticized the structure and culture of the board.

The HLC report said that for much of the past 10 years, there was a perception that regents took direction from the Governor’s Office; some regents marginalized others; there was a lack of understanding of higher education governance on the board; and regents used a “rolling quorum” for major decisions, including the restructuring of the Health Sciences Center.

The board has improved since new regents appointed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham were seated, according to the HLC’s report. But the report said a focus visit is needed in the next two years to “ensure progress toward a culture change not evident over the last decade.”

Board of Regents President Doug Brown, one of five regents appointed by Lujan Grisham, said the board has fairly divided powers among regents and met with consultants for governing boards to try to improve the board’s functions.

He welcomed the additional monitoring.

“I think (the HLC) ought to check back and make sure we’re doing what we said we would do,” Brown said. “It’s one thing to promise we’re going to follow better practices, but it’s another thing to have done it.”

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