COMMENTARY: 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 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 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% of the cuts for the entire state budget, while only being 12.8% 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 that 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 that a number of our institutions are currently working with the Higher Learning Commission in regard to accreditation. A veto and possible subsequent budget issues puts 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 letter is signed by the seven members of the state’s Council of University Presidents: Steven Gamble, president at Eastern New Mexico University; Sam Minner Jr., president at New Mexico Highlands University; Stephen Wells, president at New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology; Garrey Carruthers, chancellor at New Mexico State University; Richard Bailey Jr., president at Northern New Mexico College; Chaouki T. Abdallah, president at the University of New Mexico; and Joseph Shepard, president at Western New Mexico University. They sent this letter to Gov. Susana Martinez and state legislators.