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New Higher Ed Formula Focused on Real Results

In business and education, you have but one opportunity to get things right the first time. New Mexico higher education is rapidly approaching a new era as the state revises the formula that provides funding for its four-year, two-year and special institutions.

I’ve watched the progress of the funding formula revision with great interest, as it will affect my work as a university regent, and I believe there is much that will substantially improve higher education in New Mexico. Now it is up to New Mexico lawmakers to reinvest in higher education and appropriate funds to begin implementing the formula as they craft the state appropriations bill making its way through the 2012 Legislature.

The process of revising the funding formula has been going at a rapid pace for several months and has involved representatives from every sector of higher education, assisted by financial experts, as well as the business community. The latter is important because the revisions move toward a workforce-driven, output-measured formula which is universally supported by higher education institutions.

For example, the old formula would reward institutions for inputs like enrollment numbers or the square footage of building space. The new formula provides for outputs, which as a businessman make a lot of sense. These will incentivize students completing their courses and completing their degrees, and incentivize institutions to increase science, technology, engineering, health and mathematics degrees and certificates, and to graduate more at-risk students.

As it recognizes the different missions of research universities, comprehensive four-year institutions and two-year community colleges, the new formula will actually be three separate formulas that distinguish the missions between sectors and provide suitable metrics for each. The different metrics will encourage institutions to focus on their education mission goals. Taken together, this outcomes-driven formula will serve to better coordinate and measure the three sectors, and build a stronger system of higher education that has been sorely needed in this state.

Of particular interest to my colleagues in the business community is the output that will reward a greater emphasis on science, technology, engineering, health and mathematics. National experts will tell you the economic opportunities of the future will rely on these knowledge areas. Gov. Susana Martinez is to be commended for stipulating that the new formula reward institutions for closing the gaps between the workforce now available in New Mexico and a future workforce that will successfully compete in the global arena.

Of particular interest to me as a university regent is the fact that the new formula does away with the tuition tax credit, which amounts to a tax on students and parents, threatens the viability of the Lottery Success Scholarship and is bad public policy. It is my sincere hope that it will be permanently abolished.

As I understand it, the General Appropriations Act under consideration in the House includes approximately $29 million in new money for higher education to begin implementing the new formula outcomes. I encourage both Houses to preserve this increased funding level, as it jump-starts the new formula while ensuring that institutions can depend on their fiscal ’12 funding base to carry out their respective missions following years of harsh budget cuts.

The new formula is a critical first step in moving higher education forward. It would be a shame if the momentum for change that has been generated in higher education this year halted at this stage in the game by not allocating sufficient funds for formula implementation. New Mexico needs to catch up to the rest of the country as quickly as possible in educational attainment, and the higher education community is united in its vision of using the formula as a means of working together in other ways to create a globally competitive workforce in the future.