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Editorial: Higher ed looks to private sector to plug $ shortfalls

Faced with economic reality, New Mexico State University is making a smart move – away from seeking more public dollars and toward working with the private sector.

Amid a financial crunch created in part by falling enrollment and declining tax and royalty revenues to state coffers from oil and gas, NMSU president Garrey Carruthers announced last week that he wants to tap private revenue streams so the university “won’t have to worry about legislators or tuition.”

Money will be tight when state lawmakers convene in January for the short budget session. And many hands will be out competing for funding for worthy programs.

Meanwhile, fall enrollment at the main campus in Las Cruces was down 14 percent, a function in part of a better economy where more people are opting for work over school. Earlier this year a $9.1 million shortfall caused the university to do some housecleaning and reorganizing. Staffing levels were trimmed, a soft hiring freeze was imposed and changes were made in purchasing. NMSU may also consider outsourcing information technology services. And tuition was raised by 2.4 percent.

Carruthers and his administration also are exploring development of land near the school’s golf course to attract private projects. For example, there is interest in a continuum-care living facility for retirees.

Faced with similar financial concerns, the University of New Mexico has launched a $1.98 million four-year rebranding campaign to try to attract more students. Declining enrollment in 2014 cost UNM $3.7 million in funding. Regents rejected a tuition increase and asked officials to see if outsourcing some services would help address a budget shortfall of at least $3.5 million.

Changing the way business is done in academia is the new reality if the institutions are to thrive. Sitting on the old laurels won’t work in a world where events across the globe affect New Mexico’s bottom line.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.