Regents Discuss Potential Lottery Fund Shortfall

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. January 8, 2014 – The Board of Regents discussed the state’s expected shortfall in the Legislative Lottery Scholarship Fund at its December meeting in Albuquerque.

University President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said the state Legislature will not decide until late January or early February how much funding will be provided for scholarships for the 2014, meaning students might not receive as much support as expected.

[UPDATE: As of January 7, Lopez said he believes the state will fully fund the Lottery Scholarships for the spring 2014 semester. Changes in eligibility requirements are expected to take effect for either the summer 2014 or fall 2014 semester.]

Lopez said the shortfall could be as much as $700,000 for Tech. He said many state decision makers are committed to covering the entirety of Lottery Scholarship obligations, but no official pronouncement about the fund has been made.

Lopez said Tech would send an email to students alerting them to the potential shortfall in state funds. If the scholarships are not fully funded, Tech will allow students to schedule tuition payments over four installments instead of three. As Lottery Scholarship funds become available, students will receive credit on their accounts, he said.

Lopez said the debate over the state’s higher education funding formula is still on going.  Due to a series of cuts, Tech still receives $300,000 less than peak funding in 2008 – and has 220 more students now than then. Meanwhile, fixed costs – such as library subscriptions, health insurance and utilities have increased. In past years, Tech could devote as much as 87 percent of the general budget toward salaries. This year, that figure has dwindled to 76 percent. The Higher Education Department has proposed a three-tier funding formula that would see Tech receive about $113,000 more than last year, an amount woefully inadequate in meeting the needs of the university. The Council of University Presidents has developed a different proposal that would more adequately fund universities, including New Mexico Tech. The Legislature, the Higher Education Department and the Governor’s office how best to fund higher education via an alternative funding formula during the annual session that begins January 14.

Lopez said he and his fellow presidents will offer an alternative funding formula that rewards to universities for course completion and degrees, STEM offerings and closing the achievement gap.

In other business:

Lopez reported that freshman enrollment is expected to be above or on pace with the fall 2013 semester. The dormitories are at 99 percent capacity – with President’s Hall closed for renovation until the fall 2014 semester.

Lopez reported that construction has begun on the new Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources building. Director of Special Projects Miguel Hidalgo said he met with the general contractor and sub-contractors to emphasize safety in the restricted areas.

While meeting as the Employee Benefit Trust, Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez reported that the health insurance account is showing signs of reducing its deficit. Nevertheless, the plan will see a 16 percent increase in premiums for the 2014 calendar year.

Board member Deborah Peacock reported on the New Mexico Tech Foundation meeting, which was held in the morning before the Regents meeting. She said the Foundation aims to focus on commercializing intellectual property developed at Tech, provide $100,000 to the Office of Advancement, and mount a campaign to increase private funding and donations. The Foundation discussed developing a new website that will provide a better flow of information to alumni and other potential donors. The Regents voted to appoint Jerry Armijo as its representative to the Foundation board.

Hidalgo reported that a committee reviewed proposals from eight architecture firms for designing a new chemistry building. The committee selected Van Gilbert Architects of Albuquerque. The board approved Hidalgo and the committee to negotiate a contract with the company. Lopez will ask the state for about $16 million for construction during the upcoming legislative session. The building would be constructed in the location of the current Bureau of Geology building, which will be razed. The existing chemistry building – Jones Hall – will be completely renovated for use by the Mechanical Engineering Department. Lopez said $6 million to $10 million will be required for that project.

The Board approved emeritus status for Vice President of Academic Affairs Dr. Peter Gerity, who is retiring in January. Gerity has been active in the Mechanical Engineering Department as a guest speaker, lecturer and advisor to the Senior Design Clinic. Lopez said, “I don't think most people realize the battles that Dr. Gerity went through over last four years during a period of financial constraints. He's made difficult decisions and done it with grace and courage and he's been consistent in what he demands of faculty. He always has great data in his favor when he reallocates money. He took business approach when dealing with these problems and we wouldn't be here without him.”

Lopez reported that he had a productive meeting with representatives of the Alumni Association. He said relations are friendly and he hopes the Association and the university can develop a memorandum of understanding in coming months.

The board learned that Tech conferred one master’s degree and one Ph.D. in October.

 – NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech