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Editorial: Colleges Should Have To Earn Their Funding

The conventional wisdom is that in college you have to work hard and produce results — in other words, systematically earn your way to a degree. So it makes sense to take that one step further and expect those colleges in turn to work hard, produce results and earn their way to ever-scarcer public dollars.

The state’s Higher Education Department is proposing just that in a new formula that rejects a request from public colleges and universities to distribute an imaginary $32 million in new money. It instead keeps funding flat at $577 million — around 15 percent of the state budget — and has the institutions starting to earn part of their respective shares.

The plan has several smart qualifiers. Institutions of higher learning would be divided by sector — research, four-year and community colleges — so smaller two-year schools wouldn’t be going head-to-head with four-year research universities. (Proving size isn’t everything, the University of New Mexico would lose $759,000 next year under the formula — less than 1 percent of its total state funding — with $352,000 redirected to reward New Mexico Tech and $407,000 to New Mexico State University.)

The redistributions would be eased in, limited at least initially to no more than a 2 percent increase or loss.

New Mexico has eight universities and 17 community college/branch campuses; it is important, especially in tough economic times, to start emphasizing quality over quantity, and Higher Ed’s funding proposal is a step in that direction.

Secretary Jose Garcia says “the idea here is to provide incentives and cash and bonuses to each institution for trying to do what we need to get a globally competitive workforce.”

Along those lines it is vital the state expand its proposed performance measurements beyond the number of courses completed and degrees handed out. While there are no standardized tests administered at the post-secondary level to measure proficiency, as there are with K-12, it is important New Mexico’s college students are truly prepared to enter that “globally competitive workforce.” Critics who decry having the state’s 25 colleges prove their worth for scarce public dollars should consider the alternative: 25 colleges with watered-down offerings where every school gets the equivalent of an A and a diploma, just so they can keep their budgets intact.

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.