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PBS News Show Features Tech President

SOCORRO, N.M. June 23, 2010 – The PBS program, “Report From Santa Fe,” will feature a 30-minute interview with New Mexico Tech president Dr. Daniel H. Lopez this weekend.

The show will air on Channel 5, KNME, at 10:30 p.m. Friday, June 25, and at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, June 27.

Dr. Daniel H. Lopez, New Mexico Tech president

Host Lorene Mills and Lopez primarily discussed the funding situation for higher education in New Mexico and the contribution of universities to New Mexico’s economy and the global community.

After talking about the history of the university and giving an overview of Tech’s largest research divisions, Mills and Lopez discussed how funding cuts are affecting higher education.

“I think this is a misconception about how higher education can sustain itself,” Lopez said. “There is a misconception that we have a lot of outside resources that can go directly to support state functions and that is simply incorrect. Higher education does attract a lot of money to the state but unfortunately we can’t use it for the primary mission of research and education.”

Lopez said Tech has cut employment, including faculty members, by about 10 percent already.

“We are getting to a point where I think it could really hurt our educational mission so I don’t think it’s that the legislature is against higher education but I don’t think that there is a full appreciation of how we manage our business,” he said. “We have taken a disproportionate hit … not only on direct cuts but in addition to that some fairly hefty credit which means that we have to pass on the costs to students.”

Lopez explained the tuition credit concept and the state’s funding formula for higher education. He also dispelled the myth that four-year institutions are more expensive for the state to maintain than are two-year colleges.

“When you compare the first two years of higher education meaning four year schools to the first two years at community college actually the four year schools are less expensive but that usually doesn’t come across in the aggregate statistics,” Lopez said. “It is that kind of mythology I think that works into the political process and after a while we end up thinking this little cut is not going to hurt that much … and it really lands up being very difficult on the part of the four year institution.”

Lopez then talked about how universities around the world contribute intellectual capital, discovery and new ideas, thus improving the global way of life.

“That’s what creates wealth in this country,” he said. “That’s the added value and that’s why I hope we don’t give up on higher education. That that really I think is the cutting edge of what will make a difference of whether we remain globally competitive or we fall back to a second degree status as a society in this country.”

Mills brought the discussion back to state policy, budgets and higher education funding.

“I don’t envy the legislature,” Lopez said. “They have extraordinarily difficult decisions to make. But the fact of the matter is that you cannot pursue a short-term fix on a long-term problem and the long-term problem has to be solved and that has to do with creating this workforce that is at the highest competitive level. So when you are choosing to cut, you are going to have to really be mindful of whether you are doing it in order to solve a short-term problem at the expense of a long-term gain. … We are not used to thinking in global terms, we are much more parochial than that but we need to shift our paradigm. We need to think that we are no longer a society that competes just around the corner.  We compete on a global scale and we have got to understand that.”

Mills asked Lopez what he would suggest as a long-term solution to the state’s dwindling tax base and shrinking budget.

“The solutions are not pretty,” he said. “We all know what the division of resources is and our public education takes a big chunk. … You have to look at each of these sectors and be willing to say we can’t afford what we have been doing all these years and that talks about issues nobody wants to talk about. It may talk to consolidation in some sectors and I won’t name which. It may talk about grouping universities and two year schools in another context.”

Lopez said the state must either do away with some services that are not essential or raise taxes.

“Those are the only two choices,” he said. “We are going to have to address needs rather than desires and so a little movement towards the middle and away from the extremes I think would permit us to make some decisions that will hurt the least and have the best opportunity to maximize our opportunities to be successful.”

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech