Education still top priority

By Steven Gamble: Guest columnist

As president of Eastern New Mexico University, it is my responsibility to keep the public informed concerning the financial well-being of our institution.

We at Eastern fully understand the condition of the New Mexico economy and the necessity for funding cuts in virtually all areas of state government.

We agree ENMU must be a part of the solution and ask readers not interpret this piece as a complaint. It is meant as a simplified explanation of the extremely complicated challenges we now face as a result of state budget cuts — and how we plan to address them as we prepare the institutional budget for 2010-2011, which begins on July 1.

In the last two years, the state appropriation to ENMU has been cut by approximately $4.5 million (14 percent). The lion’s share of these cuts — $3.2 million — has been made in the last 12 months. This one-year reduction in ENMU’s state funding is a cut of more than 10 percent.

These cuts affect all areas of the University’s mission — instruction, special projects, public television and athletics.

To address these challenges, the ENMU Board of Regents and administration remain committed to protecting our mission and our people.

Our mission, which we take very seriously, is simply to provide an excellent educational experience to all students. We are confident we can strategically deal with these budget cuts and continue to remain true to our students, our faculty and staff and our mission, but it will not be painless.

To develop our budget for the coming fiscal year, we plan to:

• Through retirements and other voluntary departures, eliminate at least 30 full-time positions. We estimate this action will trim $1.5 million from our budget without layoffs, furloughs or salary cuts.

• Reduce operational expenses by $500,000 through cuts in travel, student wages, association memberships, services, supplies and other miscellaneous items.

• Increase tuition and fees. This action is expected to generate $600,000 in additional funds.

• Use growth money from our 14 percent increase in enrollment over the past two years, expected to be about $600,000.

These four actions are projected to provide ENMU about $3.2 million to help balance the budget for next year.

In addition, we must deal with a $400,000 increase in “fixed” costs for the coming year, such as health insurance premiums and utilities. To deal with the anticipated increase in fixed costs, we will use funds that currently service a bond issue that is expiring.

While we are challenged by $4.5 million in budget cuts over the past two years, ENMU remains true to its commitment to protect our mission and our people. We remain confident that all students attending Eastern New Mexico University will receive an excellent educational experience. It seems ironic, however, that in a time when the state funding to ENMU has decreased by 14 percent over two years, we are educating 14 percent more students over the same period.

ENMU has always enjoyed strong and generous support from its local community, its region and at the state level. In addition, the university has a well-earned reputation for being a good steward of its finances.

I want to close by thanking the citizens of our great state for their support, and pledging that Eastern New Mexico University will continue to provide an excellent educational experience to its students.