Looking forward to 2015 and the legislative session, it’s apparent that state finances will be tight, primarily due to the falling prices of oil and gas and reduced production of oil in New Mexico.
This presents a particularly difficult challenge for higher education because universities and colleges have barely recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009. Since then, in the midst of diminishing financial resources, New Mexico Tech has seen fairly significant increases in both graduate and undergraduate student enrollment.
The lack of meaningful increases in faculty and staff compensation over that time frame continue to be a great challenge in recruiting and retaining quality employees, especially when you consider that insurance premiums continue to eat away at the take-home pay of employees.
New Mexico Tech is still short on faculty in key areas which – if left unattended – could diminish the quality of education at our institution. This is particularly true at Tech, because we are a science and engineering institution.
Another area that has been negatively impacted is our ability to do high-level research and attract external funding from government agencies and private organizations.
The lack of advancement in some research areas may not seem critical to the state of New Mexico. However, the ability of the state to compete nationally and internationally is significantly diminished by the dwindling amount of funding available to keep New Mexico competitive in this arena.
The hope is that Legislature will recognize the critical needs facing higher education in 2015 and beyond – especially after several rounds of reduced funding and only a modest recovery since.
All these challenges are further accentuated when we recognize that retention and producing graduates who are technologically high-quality students are the central goals of the state and the new funding formula.
The newly devised formula that will drive funding for higher education has the necessary elements to produce increased graduation rates, mainly because it’s so closely tied to outcomes and not just increasing enrollment. All colleges and universities have financial incentives to increase the skills of and graduate rates of students and ultimately add them to the workforce.
On a positive note, New Mexico Tech still has extraordinary students and committed faculty and staff. So, we’ll continue to try to meet our main goal of graduating highly trained students who will contribute to the state of New Mexico in positive and innovative ways.
Dr. Daniel H. Lopez is the president of the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology in Socorro. He is also the long-time chairman of the Council of University Presidents.