Unintended message a bad one

On behalf of the Council of University Presidents, we wish to express our deep concern with the recent veto of all funding for New Mexico’s higher education institutions for next fiscal year. Clearly, higher education must be funded, and at a level that enables us to continue the fine work of educating our state’s current students and future workforce. We cannot continue our mission without the state funding and at the very least, at the current levels. It is critical that higher education is funded in this state with no further cuts beyond what was outlined in HB 2. Therefore, the council asks to restore $744.8 million in funding to all public colleges and universities.

Currently, state funding makes up roughly 50 percent to 60 percent of the money we receive for instruction and general operations. This includes vital functions such as classroom education and the services essential to each student’s educational efforts. Our universities also generate other revenues from our research and services to support the academic mission.

The cuts to higher education will make up 44 percent of the cuts for the entire state budget, while only being 12.8 percent of the state’s overall spending for state government.

We cannot stress enough how much the state appropriation means to each of our students and their families. Without it, the amount of tuition each student would pay increases dramatically – by roughly three times what they are currently paying. Students attending the three research institutions could end up paying more than $20K a year in tuition to offset the loss of our state appropriations.

The message the veto sent to our 133,505 registered students and their families, while unintended, leaves them confused and wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college or whether they’ll be able to finish their degree and graduate. While we are trying to calm their fears, there is concern many of our state’s brightest students will move to other states to pursue their higher education.

We’ve worked hard to recruit high-quality faculty members to our institutions, yet some are now looking at employment where there is more certainty in higher education. We can’t afford to lose these talented members of our higher education community.

By law, our institutions must submit their budgets to the Department of Finance and Administration by May 1, 2017. The veto prevents us from being able to continue our budget planning process — preparations that are essential to our students and their families, faculty, staff, even the local businesses, who provide much needed services and goods. Everyone needs to plan for and know what to expect for the upcoming fiscal year.

It is important to note a number of our institutions are currently working with the Higher Learning Commission in regard to accreditation. A veto and possible subsequent budget issues put them in jeopardy of potentially losing essential accreditation based on their Composite Financial Index. This situation will also impact bond ratings, with some universities already under review by bonding agencies due to the state budgeting of higher education.

Additionally, the CUP worries this instability and the perceived risk of lack of support will turn away potential businesses looking at quality higher education and strong workforce training opportunities when investing in a state.

Higher education in the state must be funded and at the level outlined in HB 2. Action needs to be taken quickly. It is our hope that the executive and the Legislature will work expeditiously to resolve their differences and allow higher education to continue its role in improving New Mexico and its workforce for future generations.

This op-ed is jointly authored by New Mexcio’s six other university presidents including: Steven Gamble, Eastern New Mexico University; Sam Minner Jr., New Mexico Highlands University; Stephen Wells, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Richard Bailey Jr., Northern New Mexico College; Chaouki T. Abdallah, University of New Mexico; and Joseph Shepard, Western New Mexico University.

 

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