LC Bulletin: State again reduces university funding

April 15, 2011. Retrieved online April 18, 2011 from Todd G. Dickson, Las Cruces Bulletin

New Mexico State University regents approved increasing student tuition and fees by 7.9 percent, which would mean an average full-time student will be paying $213.60 more next fall semester.

NMSU President Barbara Couture said the level of state funding support has eroded over the past several years, while the university and Doña Ana Community College continued to enjoy steady enrollment growth.

The action approved by regents Friday, April 8, also includes an 8.8-percent increase for tuition and fees at DACC.

Regent Javier Gonzales was the lone vote against the increase – not because the increase wasn’t warranted, he said, but because the details of the increases weren’t broadly released to the public prior to the regents’ approval.

NMSU officials said they needed to get approval now to proceed with early registration for the fall semester.

“We do not make these decisions lightly,” said Regents Chair Laura Conniff. “We have done everything we can for the best interest of the university and will continue to do so.”

Couture acknowledged that all universities and colleges will see state support reduced by an average 4 percent, but she added that NMSU was cut more than any other four-year institution in the state.

In total, the NMSU system has endured a $35 million reduction in state appropriations since fiscal year 2009, according to university officials.

The state’s funding included a 3.1-percent resident student “tuition credit” that essentially required NMSU to raise tuition. Couture said a variety of NMSU programs also were hit with cuts.

The main cuts to NMSU came from a midyear reduction of $3.7 million made permanent and $3.8 million in waiver eliminations.

NMSU criminal justice professor Joan Crowley told regents that faculty is becoming demoralized, and the process to develop the increases lacked transparency.

“Tuition increases impact everyone,” she said, adding rising costs make it especially difficult for minority students.

Couture said the tuition and fee increases had to be developed quickly as the details of cuts weren’t available until about three weeks ago.

Couture said NMSU has already cut 110 positions – 68 administration and 42 academic – since she arrived about a year and a half ago. NMSU saved $1.3 million through 81 employees accepting early retirement, she said. Also, NMSU is spending less on upkeep of its grounds, on custodial maintenance, on travel and the university has reduced its vehicle fleet by more than 400 vehicles.

These and other efficiency efforts have generated more than $8 million in savings, Couture said. “In short, we are doing a whole lot more with a whole lot less,” she said.

Teacher-to-student ratios have increased to the point where required classes are almost filled to capacity, resulting in fewer scheduling options for students.

“Again, we must, and will, turn this around,” Couture said.

Angela Thornberry, interim senior vice president for administration and finance, said the tuition and fee increases are expected to generate $6.9 million.

Regent Isaac Pino said NMSU is beginning to run out of places to make cuts without the words layoff, reduction in force or furloughs. Pino said he is worried the Legislature may pull back even more funding in the future because it is easier for lawmakers to cut higher education than the public schools.

Read the Las Cruces Bulletin article.

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