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UNM Contender Defended Tuition Increases in Arizona

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Cost-cutting, tuition increases and tough decisions have occupied University of New Mexico presidential finalist Meredith Hay since 2007, when she last visited Albuquerque as a contender for UNM’s top job.

Hay’s role in implementing a $180 million, 43 percent cut in state funding in 2009-11 as provost at University of Arizona led to “hurt feelings” and taught her lessons about communicating effectively with the faculty, she told a UNM audience on Tuesday.

Hay also defended tuition increases that helped the university make up lost state revenue and nearly doubled undergraduate tuition since 2009 to more than $10,000 a year – a figure comparable to other U.S. research public universities, she said.

“Low tuition sounds good and feels good, but what we had in Arizona was, we were subsidizing the rich,” Hay told faculty and staff members at the Student Union Building.

Moving to a “high-tuition model” has allowed UA to boost merit and needs-based student aid to $135 million a year, helping ease the pain for low- and middle-income students, she said. UA dedicates 20 percent of tuition revenue to financial aid, she said.

“If you want high quality, you can’t do it on the cheap,” Hay told students who expressed skepticism about tuition increases. “It’s the overhead at the research institutions that drives costs up.”

Universities need to offer affordable high-quality options for students, Hay said. Branch campuses, which specialize in teaching and lack the high overhead of research universities, can offer students quality degree programs at lower cost, she said.

UNM faculty members quizzed Hay about a 2009 survey in which 60 percent of UA faculty members surveyed reported “no confidence” or “low confidence” in Hay and then-UA President Robert Shelton. In response, Hay said she helped implement a cost-cutting measure that consolidated four UA colleges into one, yielding administrative savings of about $10 million a year.

“There was a lot of anxiety and a lot of hurt feelings” among faculty members affected by the consolidation, she said.

She described the dispute as a “crisis of communication” that taught her the importance of frequent meetings with small groups of faculty members. Hay said that, if hired, she would spend the first three months of her presidency meeting with faculty members.

Universities can cut costs and help students succeed by investing in programs such as student advising, cultural centers and peer mentoring for veterans and first-generation college students, Hay said.

The University of Arizona last year opened a one-stop advising center, funded by bookstore revenue, that logged 20,000 student visits in its first year. Student advisers using computerized tools can keep students on track toward a degree, she said.

Hay also said universities should consider offering financial aid packages that reward students for completing their degrees in four years.

“If you finish in four years versus six years, you save a lot of money,” she said.
— This article appeared on page C01 of the Albuquerque Journal