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UNM regents approve 2.5% increase in tuition

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly reported UNM regents’ decision regarding an online fee for students. The story has been updated.

To help overcome a $7.9 million budget shortfall, University of New Mexico regents Tuesday unanimously approved a 2.5 percent tuition increase and a 10.4 percent hike in student fees – adding an estimated $286 to the amount paid by a full-time student in the 2016-17 school year.

A student taking at least 15 credit hours would pay about $6,950 in tuition and fees a year – up from $6,664 this year.

The tuition increase is expected to raise about $2.8 million to pay for operations. The additional student fees are expected to raise nearly $3 million, which will help repay money borrowed in 2015 for three construction projects on the main campus, including a new business school building, gym renovations and improvements to a main campus plaza.

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The Health Sciences Center, which secured a 1 percent decrease in medical school tuition, will pitch in $1.8 million – more than its normal contribution – to the main campus’ budget.

The remainder of the shortfall will be met with cuts.

“We have cut as much as we can cut,” said Regent President Robert Doughty during Tuesday’s budget summit. “I do believe this university has pulled the belt as tight as it can go.”

School leaders already have frozen some open positions and reduced budgets across the campus. And with the 2.5 percent increase, which was less than the 3 percent they sought, they must now find an additional $500,000 in cuts. Each 1 percent increase in tuition raises about $1 million in revenue.

UNM, like other New Mexico universities, has been hit by less state money due to lower oil and gas prices, higher fixed costs and falling enrollment. New Mexico State University is also wrestling with increasing tuition and already has cut positions.

Legislators this year provided nearly $4.5 million less than UNM said it needed to meet its budget. In addition to that, fixed health care, utility and liability insurance costs are increasing next year by $1.2 million. Enrollment is down this year from 27,889 students in 2014 to 27,353.

UNM President Bob Frank mentioned in the meeting that a group might convene to look at increased “efficiencies” at the school. After the meeting, Executive Vice President David Harris said it could take the form of an internal group or could include an outside consultant.

Harris said a potential source for cuts might come from targeting duplication of services at the main campus and the Health Sciences Center, such as communication, financial and legal staff.

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Jenna Hagengruber, president of the undergraduate student group, told regents that in light of all the cuts, students reluctantly understand the need for a tuition increase.

In addition to the 2.5 percent increase for the main campus, regents approved tuition increases for three of the four branch campuses, excluding the Taos campus, of between 7 and 9 percent. That amounts to roughly $15 additional per class.

Hagengruber also worked on the Student Fee Review Board to determine how to allocate student fees next school year.

Regents approved the board’s recommendation for the base student fee schedule, which goes to student activity groups, including a $120,000 reduction in money typically given to the athletics department, among other groups that will see less money.

Regents tabled a decision on a new online class fee, which until now only has been paid by students taking an online class. The fee would cover the cost of the online classroom computer system, which is used even in face-to-face classes. The proposed structure would mean every student, not just online students, would contribute to paying for the system.

The school’s final budget must be sent to the state Higher Education Department by May 1.

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