Higher education proposal draws mixed reviews

Alisa Boswell

Gov. Susana Martinez’s budget proposal to change the state funding formula for colleges and universities is drawing mixed reaction at institutions in Clovis and Portales.

ENMU President Steven Gamble said he thinks the university will do well under the new policy if it is approved by the Legislature.

But Clovis Community College President Becky Rowley has concerns.

The Martinez budget proposal was announced Thursday. The change would reward colleges and universities with state money based on the number of students who graduate instead of the number of buildings on a campus.

Among the chief critics of the current formula, New Mexico’s Secretary of Higher Education Jose Garcia. At a Nov. 29 meeting in Portales, Garcia said his $750 million annual budget parcels money out through a formula unchanged for more than 40 years; rewarding schools for square footage of buildings and numbers of students rather than success, such as completing classes and graduating.

Gamble at ENMU likes the idea of a change.

“The formula is still a work in progress and several of the important details have not been completely finalized,” Gamble said. “This new formula rewards quality and I really believe Eastern will do well under any formula that rewards quality.”

Gamble said the new formula will also look for increases in the number of graduates coming from universities and ENMU’s numbers have been steadily increasing since the 2005-06 school year, going from 631 graduates in a school year to 730.

“The thing I think we’re all a little concerned about is this has also been presented as something that will be tweaked over time,” said Rowley at CCC. “I am comfortable with what will happen next year, but possible changes do give me cause for concern.”

Rowley said as a community college, CCC has many students who aren’t seeking degrees because they want only certain classes to improve their skills in a career they already have or just for knowledge purposes.

“We want to make sure those students aren’t counted against us,” Rowley said. “As a community college, we think those students are important too and we consider them successful and we want to make sure they are seen as successful.”

The governor’s Communications Director Scott Darnell said the new formula will look at how many students at a university or college have completed a course or degree program rather than how many students were initially enrolled.

“The formula offers incentives for producing the sort of graduates our work force needs, such as science, engineering and health care,” Darnell said. “So, it’s in a transition phase … what you’d see in this first year is five percent of the budget would be re-allocated, depending how the institutions are doing on these new conditions. For that first year, we’re saying no university can gain more than two percent or lose more than two percent in funding as a result of this allocation.”

Darnell said universities are currently funded based on factors of square footage, such as larger buildings and number of campuses along with enrollment numbers.

“I think the things that are being explored are greater percentages being devoted to achievement,” Darnell said. “There could possibly be one formula for community colleges and a different formula for four-year universities. And the point in doing this would be to offer different incentives to different sectors. There may be different things different sectors are good at.”

Darnell said if passed by the Legislature, the new funding formula will take effect July 1.