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Competing proposals aim to encourage 4-year graduation rate at UNM

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Competing approaches by two UNM regents to encourage students to graduate in four years led to a vigorous discussion at a finance committee meeting Tuesday and is likely to ignite more debate when the full Board of Regents and top administrators meet Friday for a “Budget Summit.”

Administrators and regents seem resigned to a 3 percent tuition hike – following by a day a 2.4 percent increase adopted by New Mexico State University regents. Decreasing enrollment and lower oil and gas revenues have resulted in deep cuts in funds available for New Mexico’s state-funded universities.

Following Tuesday’s Finance & Facilities Committee meeting, Marron Lee, the newest UNM regent, likened the two new approaches to timely graduation as “the carrot or the stick.”

One proposal, submitted by Brad Hosmer, has been under discussion for a few years. It would set tuition and fees for four years, during which time a student would pay a total of $27,781 for a college degree. The proposal, as presented by the administration Tuesday, includes a one-time surcharge of $305, which would be added to the standard 2015 tuition and fee structure of $6,640.

The surcharge prompted Lee’s metaphor to the “stick” method of encouraging a four-year graduation. The competing “carrot” proposal was submitted by Rob Doughty, a relatively new regent who joined the board earlier this year. It would reward students who graduate in four years with free tuition for the final semester at UNM. It would also cap any potential tuition increases at 3 percent annually.

Both proposals received preliminary support at Tuesday’s meeting, at which five of seven regents were present. Lee seemed to favor Doughty’s approach, while Heidi Overton argued in support of the Hosmer plan and against Doughty’s. Committee chairman Jaime Koch appeared to like portions of both proposals.

Board President Jack Fortner, of Farmington, and Suzanne Quillen, of Las Cruces, did not attend the meeting at the Albuquerque campus, but all seven regents are expected at Friday’s budget summit.

UNM administrators appeared torn between the two approaches and reluctant to endorse either.

Promising to provide additional details of the proposals for Friday’s discussion, President Bob Frank suggested that perhaps the measures shouldn’t be viewed as competing. Both might be offered to students, who could then choose between them or stick with the going rate of tuition, he said.

Doughty’s plan is new, and even Hosmer found in it “separate virtues” that should be evaluated individually. After the meeting, he said it is important to compare the two side by side in similar formats.

Doughty said his plan would not only be an incentive to finish school in four years, it also would provide students and parents with a clear opportunity for budget planning during the college years. Under his plan, annual tuition – which today is $5,007 but would rise to $5,157 if the regents increase it by 3 percent – could be no higher than $5,635 by graduation in FY2019. That means freshmen who start school this fall would end up paying $18,757 – excluding fees – in tuition for the entire four-year education.

The final semester’s tuition, $2,818 – if tuition goes up 3 percent each year – would encourage more students to enroll at UNM, Doughty said, noting the struggle to find ways to increase enrollment. Hosmer’s plan, which includes tuition and fees, would be a “cost-neutral option that provides stability and predictability” according to a slide prepared by the administration.