By Todd G. Dickson
Las Cruces Bulletin
Even though a recent trend of decreasing enrollment continues at New Mexico State University, a tuition increase remains a possibility as NMSU officials begin crafting a budget for the next academic year.
At the NMSU regents meeting Monday, March 11, Bernadette Montoya, vice president of student affairs and enrollment management, gave a spring enrollment update that showed a decline of about 1 percent.
Even though there are more than 13,000 undergraduate students, NMSU is experiencing its largest decline in graduate numbers at more than 3 percent, Montoya said. Also, most community college campuses also saw drops in enrollment, she said, with the Carlsbadcampus being the exception because of dualcredit courses, in which high school students earn credit for their diploma and an associate degree by taking college classes.
Montoya said what NMSU is experiencing is not out of line with what most other New Mexico higher-education institutions are experiencing, and NMSU’s six-year graduation rate has remained consistently at about 44 percent from 2003-06.
Montoya reported that NMSU’s fall-to-fall retention rate of 72 percent has held steady in recent years.
To work on improving the graduation rate, NMSU officials have reached out to students who left a semester or two short of completing their degree, Montoya said. The story often heard was of financial difficulties keeping students from finishing, she said.
One way the university can help these students is to offer more online degree programs, especially at the undergraduate level, she said.
Montoya said officials will keep working toimprove retention and graduation rates.
Regent Isaac Pino said he believed the growth in Carlsbad was in response to work opportunities on the eastern side of the state and that other campuses needed to be more flexible to offer classes in response to market demand.
Tim Ketelaar, Faculty Senate chair, said the challenge is finding a balance of providing students the opportunity for higher education while keeping excellence as an expectation for student performance and in instruction. This is the kind of balance that the Faculty Senate’s working group on salaries is trying to achieve in its push for salaries that are more competitive.
Earlier that day, regents heard a variety of budget consideration priorities that could result in possible tuition and fee increases ranging from no increase to an increase of 4.2 percent.
The regents will meet again next month to hear more on tuition and fee rates and budget guidelines.
Interim President Manual Pacheco started the workshop by discussing the principles that are guiding the development of the budget, including recognizing the role NMSU plays in providing a quality education to the citizens of the state at the lowest possible cost while managing the impact of overall reduced state level funding.
“The university operates in a very efficient manner,” Pacheco said. “This is the leanest university I have ever been associated with.”
Some of NMSU’s budget priorities for FY14 include required increases such as the New Mexico Educational Retirement Board’s combined employer contribution increase of 2.25 percent and an anticipated increase of 15 percent in health premiums. In addition, if state funding is provided, a faculty and staff compensation increase of 1 percent also will be included in the final recommendation.
NMSU’s institutional priorities under consideration include phase one of a Faculty Salary Enhancement Plan, funding for faculty promotion and tenure, enrollment management initiatives, such as scholarships, tutoring and advising services, graduate student support, an increase inrequired fee allocations and an additional 1 percent for faculty and staff compensation.
Currently,therearenoplanstorecommend an increase in housing or parking rates for FY14. Increases under consideration for meal plans range from 3.28 to 3.43 percent.
NMSU community colleges could see tuition increases as well, including up to 1.3 percent for resident in-district students at NMSU-Alamogordo, up to 2.3 percent for resident in-district students at NMSUCarlsbad and up to 1.6 percent for Doña Ana Community College students. Currently there is no proposed increase for NMSU-Grants.
At the regular meeting, Mike Cheney was re-elected to serve as chair of the regents board. Regent Javier Gonzales was elected vice chair and Pino will be the board’s secretary/treasurer. They will serve in these roles for one year.
Cheney said the NMSU presidential search committee was still on track for regents to make a selection by May’s commencement.
Wednesday, March 20, is the deadline for submission of nominations, from which the search committee will offer five finalists.
Meanwhile, Pacheco said he is working with NMSU administrators to simplify processes and find efficiencies. That requires an openness in administration to be willing to first say “yes” to ideas than rejecting them by reflex, he said.