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Employee Insurance Rates to Rise

New Mexico Tech Board of Regents Approves 16 Percent Increase in Insurance Premiums

            SOCORRO – The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents recently approved a 16 percent increase in health insurance premiums for its employees effective Jan. 1, 2014.

Tech’s Human Resources Department sponsored two Benefits Fairs on Nov. 11 and Nov. 12 to explain details of the new plan to employees, who must enroll in the plan of their choice by the end of December.

Among options offered to employees seeking coverage are hospice care, prescription drug benefits and wellness initiatives, according to Debbie Ranger, administrator for New Mexico Tech’s health care plan, who unveiled details of the three medical plans at the Regents’ Oct. 31 meeting.

Lonnie Marquez, V.P. for Administration and Finance, noted that the Affordable Health Care Act will not impact the University because it is self-insured.

The Affordable Health Care Act, commonly known as ObamaCare, was a focus of discussion on the insurance issue, with some Board members asking how the federal health care mandate will affect the number of enrollees in the New Mexico Tech plan.

“In my opinion, if they cannot afford your health plan today, they can’t afford it next year,” Ranger replied, adding that some Tech employees may, however, qualify for federal health care tax credits or subsidies.

Michael Olguin Sr., the third-party administrator, added that anyone can go on the exchange, but they will not be entitled to employer contributions. “They may decide they’re better off staying where they are,” he said.

            Ranger detailed the three medical plans, which vary as to the cost of the deductible, co-pay charges and out-of-pocket limits. Employees opting for a biometric screening, which includes a 36-panel blood draw, could earn a $250 credit toward their deductible, she said.

            In other action, Regents approved a change to Tech’s admission requirements for transfer students, who now must qualify for placement into Math 103 (pre-calculus) in order to be admitted to Tech, rather than Math 101 (college algebra).

            Tech President, Dr. Daniel H. López, recommended approval, rhetorically asking whether the investment in underprepared students makes sense, and whether or not admitting math-deficient students to New Mexico Tech was a disservice to them.

            During discussion, it was noted that most transfer students come to Tech from non-technical schools and with a lot of credit hours in liberal arts, “and it can be difficult to carve out a schedule for them,” said López.

            New Mexico Tech now has an official policy defining tobacco smoke-free areas on campus, following Board action at the October meeting. The policy came before the Board for approval in August, but Regents sent it back for legal review. The policy complies with the Dee Johnson New Mexico Clean Indoor Air Act, and can be viewed on Tech’s website.

            Regents also approved a contract with Bradbury-Stamm of Albuquerque for $20,929,834 to build a new facility to house the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources. Bradbury-Stamm, represented at the meeting by its president, Cynthia Schultz, received the most points of the six offers received. The award includes $1.4 million in gross receipts taxes.

            The company is no stranger to campus, having built Cramer Hall in 2006. Regent Deborah Peacock lauded the company as being highly involved in the community and known for its philanthropy.

            The Board also approved a contract with White Sands Construction of Alamogordo for $1,345,775.63 to renovate President’s Hall, a student residential facility. The company submitted the lowest of six bids.

            Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming, V.P. for Student and University Relations (SUV), introduced Tony Ortiz as New Mexico Tech’s new Director for the Office of Admission. Ortiz previously was second-in-command at the Office for Advancement.

            Jaramillo-Fleming also announced fall semester enrollment numbers: 1,604 undergraduate students and 530 graduate students for a total head count of 2,134, the highest ever for the science and engineering research university.

            “We’re retaining females at a higher rate than male students,” she said, adding that SUR has been working with Dr. Mary Dezember, Associate V.P. for Academic Affairs, among others, to boost retention.

            According to Academic Affairs V.P. Dr. Peter Gerity, the $11.4 million in federal funds from Title III and Title V grants has helped the University to recruit and retain minority students.

            Gerity also reported that the recent ABET reaccreditation visit “went extremely well,” noting that the visit was only for the Department of Computer Science and Engineering. Gerity said additional resources and faculty will need to be in place in time for the full ABET reaccreditation visit in 2016.

            Meanwhile, Dr. Dezember, who is leading reaccreditation efforts for the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) visit, reported that she is gathering data on four-, five- and six-year graduation rates, noting that math proficiency is a major factor for students who place in math levels below calculus.

            A draft of 21 HLC-mandated components is due Dec. 1, she said, adding that the process has revealed gaps and areas that need attention, plus “great information” in defining issues such as quality, persistence and completion rates. For example, all New Mexico Tech engineering programs have zero electives among their required credit hours.

            “Assessment is integral to planning,” said Dezember. “And we’ll have that data soon.”

            A 35,000-word report, plus evidence files backing up document statements, is due in August 2014, followed by a site visit in 2015.

            “This is obviously a very substantial and worthwhile project,” said Board Chairman Richard Carpenter, asking how the reaccreditation process integrates into the Strategic Plan.

            Dezember noted that an integrated planning system details the same kind of information, and will be data-driven. As an example, she noted the growth of the Department of Mechanical Engineering which went from 25 students in 2001 to almost 400 in 2013.

            “We need to address that,” she said. “‘What did you do?’ We want to have those answers.”

            Discussion then segued into the ongoing battle between the Council of University Presidents (CUP), of which López is president, and the Higher Education Department (HED), over the new funding formula.

            “So far, there is no agreement,” said López, adding that, “It will be a political decision in the end.”

            “The universities have suffered financially over the past four years,” said the president. “New Mexico Tech lost approximately $2.9 million from its peak appropriation in 2008 . . . we made up some of that loss, but we are still short of the peak level by almost $300,000,” he said. In that same time period, Tech’s enrollment has increased by over 200 students.

In other business, Student Regent Israel Rodriguez-Rios, in personal comments to the board, said he is working with the Student Government Association to propose a tuition hike to boost salaries for underpaid employees and faculty.

Chairman Carpenter in his remarks urged the University to work with the New Mexico Tech Alumni Association on fund-raising efforts. “They want to be more active, and I think we should accommodate them,” he said.

Regents also:

  • Approved awards for four restricted-funds purchases, three for the Petroleum Research and Recovery Center, and one for the Energetic Materials Research and Testing Center;
  • Approved the financial analysis for the month of September, whereby revenue collected thus far is normal; tuition and fees and overhead recovery both exceed the budgeted amount, and the University continues to cover deficits for EMRTC and ILEA;
  • Approved the first budget adjustment request (BAR) of the current fiscal year, to be forwarded to the Higher Education Department;
  • Were informed of sabbatical leave granted for Dr. Alex Prusin, Professor of History, for the fall 2014 semester; and
  • Congratulated Regent Peacock on receiving the New Mexico Distinguished Public Service Award for 2013.

After lunch, Board members toured the EMRTC scientific field laboratory, complete with an explosives demonstration.

Regents will next meet at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 3, in Albuquerque, location to be determined, to coincide with a meeting of the New Mexico Tech Research Foundation.

-- NMT --