Regents Report: Budget Cuts And Tuition Increase

SOCORRO, N.M. April 28, 2010 – The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents approved tuition increases and discussed the 2010-2011 budget at length during the regular meeting Tuesday, April 20.

The Board approved the administration recommendation of increases in overall tuition and all required fees for in-state undergraduates of 7.2 percent, from $2,303 to $2,470.

Total tuition and all required fees for out-of-state undergraduates will increase 7.7 percent, from $6,784 to $7,309.

In-state graduate students will see an increase of 7.3 percent. Out-of-state graduate fees will increase 7.8 percent.

“When you look at all the institutions in the Southwest, we are still among the lowest,” university President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said.

For an in-state student who lives on campus, the total increase in all fees is 4.4 percent, or $301 per semester.

Regents had a series of questions – both general and specific – about the proposed 2010-2011 budget.

Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez presented a budget that included revenues of $38.9 million for Instruction and General, a cut of $1.8 million from the previous year. The total budget – including research, auxiliary services and other non-general funds – also shows a decrease. The total budget of revenues is $106.4 million, a drop of $1.6 million from the previous year.

Regent Richard Carpenter opened the discussion with a general question: Do budget cuts undercut the core mission of any programs?

“There’s no question that these cuts have an impact on these important kinds of special initiatives, like Science Fair and Science Olympiad,” Lopez said. “We can maintain without the quality suffering, but over the long haul, it will create problems. You can only ask people to do so much.”

Lopez said New Mexico university administrators are wrestling with the issue at the state level, specifically with the state’s Legislative Finance Committee.

“We’ve had debates about why these programs are part and parcel of the university mission,” Lopez said. “They don’t generally support the totality of special projects.”

Lopez said universities are partially to blame because they lobbied for ever-expanding projects when the state’s budget showed a surplus. Now, universities, including Tech, are trimming the excess and still trying to preserve special projects that directly impact the core mission. Lopez said the Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources is another good example of a division classified as a “special project” that serves the educational and research missions of the university.

“We have tried to do away with programs that are not in line with our mission,” he said. “But we don’t have any programs left that aren’t directly related to the overall mission. It’s a mystery to me why we can’t win that argument. I’ve been fighting that battle for a long time.”

Carpenter also asked about several assumptions made during the budgeting process, including vacant faculty positions, costs of hiring adjunct professors and potential utility cost savings from switching to geothermal heating.

Marquez said the finance department budgeted conservatively, under-budgeting revenues and assuming expenditures would remain static, at least in part because the state has instructed universities to limit spending to 47 percent of the year’s budget through six months. The state anticipates a potential 3 percent cut in budgets during the 2011 legislative session, Lopez said.

Carpenter also asked about how faculty vacancies will affect instruction, particularly for freshman level classes. Lopez said Tech has a cadre of retired faculty members who are willing to return to teaching and has a steady source of instructors from outside agencies, like Sandia National Laboratories. However, dwindling faculty numbers are troubling, he said.

“We’re getting close the edge and I worry about it,” Lopez said. “We’re not building up our young faculty to support our student body. We can’t sustain quality instruction without bringing in new faculty.”

Lopez said the future of higher education in New Mexico is at least in part dependent on public policy. If the legislature is not willing to identify new revenue sources, New Mexico may have a very different sort of higher education in coming years, he said.
Carpenter asked specifically about the Master’s of Science Teaching program, which has been the fastest growing graduate program in recent years. Lopez said he will continue to find funding for that program.

“The M.S.T. program is one of the best ways to really address the lack of proper preparation of a lot of high school science teachers,” he said. “This is one way to get teachers’ proficiency level high to prepare students to come to our institution. This program is very important.”

Carpenter also encouraged administrators to consider expanding distance education offerings to encourage students who do not live in Socorro to enroll at Tech. The largest freshman class at Tech was 355 new students in the fall of 2008. Early enrollment figures portend even higher numbers for the fall of 2010. As of April 20, 290 new students (freshmen and transfers) have paid their application fee.

“It’s a nice outcome, but it’s something that we’ll have to wrestle with,” Lopez said. “We’ll be in a difficult situation, especially with the service courses [such as required courses in chemistry, physics and calculus]. It’s a good challenge to have.”

Campus dormitories are currently at 90 percent capacity. Lopez said Tech will consider various options for accommodating an increase in on-campus residents. Over the next six months, Tech will plan to issue revenue bonds for the construction of a new dormitory. However, completion of new housing facilities, if a bond issue is ultimately approved, would be at least two years in the future.

During his announcements, Dr. Lopez talked about several new projects:

  • Tech is developing a new partnership with Mu’Tah University in Amman, Jordan. Through the U.S. Department of Defense, Tech will be helping start a new master’s program.
  • The Playas Training and Research Center hosted two major exercises in April. The Air Force used the facility in the Bootheel for an intensive training exercise; and the Army is using a newly built Afghani village for training soldiers heading overseas.
  • Tech has hired a consultant for recruiting and retention to identify areas of weakness. The company held focus groups with faculty and students and sent “secret shoppers” to the campus.
  • Tech is entering a new partnership with Louisiana State University to create new opportunities for Native American students. Funds are being sought from the Coca Cola Foundation and others to support the program, which will target Native Americans with an interest and ability in science and engineering. The program will include a cultural component, aiming to help acclimate students to the university environment.

In other action, the Board:

  • Extended the President’s contract one year through 2015, with no wage increase.
  • Approved two budget adjustment requests for the 2009-2010 budget, one for restricted funds and one for unrestricted funds.
  • Heard the quarterly financial analysis. Marquez reported that revenues are ahead of budget and expenditures are within budget – albeit a tightened budget.
  • Heard that the Employee Benefit Trust, which administers the health insurance plan, has had more expenditures than revenues through March. Marquez said Tech and HCH Administration will meeting to review plan options.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech