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UNM students, faculty ask if tuition hike is coming

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Facing a potential cut of roughly $8 million in state funding, some students and faculty wondered Wednesday if another tuition increase could be coming at the University of New Mexico.

That and other topics came up during a town hall with UNM President Bob Frank and Provost Chaouki Abdallah regarding the financial future of the university.

“Eight million (dollars) is a big number,” Frank said. “There’s no way we’re going to get through this without some difficulties.”

Frank said he and staff were still considering how the university would deal with budget cuts. He focused on what he didn’t want to cut, such as advisers, teaching assistants or other jobs that feature direct student involvement.

The Legislature sent a state budget to Gov. Susana Martinez’s office that calls for about a $20 million cut in funding for the state’s higher education institutions. It’s still awaiting the governor’s approval.

In the fiscal year 2017 budget, lawmakers budgeted $310 million for UNM. That’s down about $8 million from the originally planned $318 million in the 2016 fiscal year, or about a 2.5 percent decrease. But, the state trimmed roughly $2 million from the 2016 fiscal year budget for an actual state funding closer to $316 million.

Frank also said the university will have higher costs in the form of increased utility prices and health benefits and already-promised raises.

The cuts, lawmakers have said, are largely the result of lower than expected revenues from oil and natural gas production in the state. At the same time, universities have seen a decline in tuition revenue as enrollment around the state erodes.

The expected cut isn’t as precipitous as the roughly $27 million drop in funding from $334 million to $307 million from fiscal year 2009 to fiscal year 2010. Funding levels for higher education had grown since fiscal year 2012.

Abdallah and Frank answered questions from the audience Wednesday. Graduate student Moses Allen asked both if tuition or fee increases would be necessary to cover the planned shortfalls. A biology professor asked a similar question earlier.

But Frank said a tuition increase alone probably won’t cover the shortfall. It would take at least an 8 percent tuition increase to cover the missing $8 million. And he said the regents have made it clear the university needs to do all it can before they’ll consider a tuition increase.

The university approved a 3 percent tuition increase last spring.

Audience members wondered if the university should up its recruitment efforts to increase student enrollment from both in and out of state. Other audience members questioned if health care benefits could be tweaked or if UNM should consider offering retirement bonuses to trim positions.

Earlier this year, Frank announced his staff was able to cut 257 vacant positions, 44 of which resulted in an immediate saving of $1.7 million dollars. He also told a Journal reporter Wednesday following the town hall that the university would have to slow its rate of hiring new faculty members to deal with tightening budgets.