Monday, March 25, 2011

Albuquerque Journal

Schmidly ‍Defends ‍Tuition ‍Increase
UNM Regent Wants To Consider More Cuts
By James Monteleone, Journal Staff Writer

University of New Mexico President David ‍Schmidly said Thursday a proposed ‍tuition ‍increase of 8.6 percent is “not unreasonable” because UNM costs less than most other state flagship universities.

At least one regent, however, said he wants to see more cuts considered so students would pay less. The proposal will be go to regents Monday.

UNM could not confirm the total spending included in next year’s budget proposal, but spokeswoman Susan McKinsey estimates it would total about $249 million.

An 8.6 percent ‍increase in ‍tuition and fees would cost an average full-time undergraduate about $475 next year, for a total annual cost of $5,980. The national average ‍tuition for state flagship universities is more than $7,950, according to UNM data. Regional peer institutions have an average ‍tuition of $6,850.

UNM officials had said Wednesday in interviews that the ‍tuition hike for next year was proposed to be about 8 percent, however, the documents released Thursday show that figure at 8.6 percent. That amount would be the last piece in balancing UNM’s budget for next year under the president’s recommendations.

‍Schmidly said that, while he wants to keep ‍tuition as low as possible, it’s not unreasonable for UNM to raise its rates by more than 8 percent to remain academically competitive.

“This university is a hell of a bargain, and that’s a good thing. Maybe you could call us the Walmart of flagship universities,” ‍Schmidly said. “People come to us because we’re a good buy, but we still have to be priced to where we have adequate resources to be competitive for faculty, because that’s what drives the excellence of the university.”

That means ‍increased investment in academics to protect the value of a UNM degree, he said.

But students are skeptical of what they’re getting for their continued ‍increases in ‍tuition, student president Lazaro Cardenas said. This year, UNM students were asked to pay an extra 7.9 percent.

Over the past five years, tuition and fees have ‍increased 34 percent.

“It’s another hard pill to swallow,” Cardenas said. “... It’s tough to buy into (the claim) this is going to go into the academic mission when we haven’t seen anything yet.”

The undergraduate student senate this week passed a resolution demanding more transparency and an administrative accounting of how ‍tuition dollars are being spent if a ‍tuition ‍increase is approved by regents. Cardenas also objected to the comparison to other universities, saying that doesn’t change the effect on a UNM student.

“When it comes out on an individual level (for students), I don’t think anyone really cares” about the comparison, he said.

Regent Jamie Koch says he sees the proposed 8.6 percent hike as a ceiling and work should be done to find more cuts and limit the ‍tuition hike.

“I think we can probably do better than that,” Koch said.

A ‍tuition ‍increase around 6 percent would be more reasonable, he said.

Budget details released Thursday included a proposal to cut $500,000 in administrative costs, potentially trimming the number of university vice presidents, ‍Schmidly said.

That administrative cut was first requested by regents in early March, but more time is necessary to determine how those cuts will be distributed, ‍Schmidly said.

“That, in my opinion, is something that will take more than a week or 10 days,” he said. “I think that has to be done very judiciously.”

The proposed budget also:

Contains new spending for academics, including an extra $750,000 to hire new faculty and $250,000 to hire more graduate student teachers. However, there would be no pay raises.

Includes no new cuts to the College of Arts and Science, the university’s largest academic unit that includes degree programs ranging from English to biology.

Includes nearly $3 million to shield faculty from a state-mandated 1.75 percent ‍increase in pension contributions next year that would otherwise cut take-home pay. UNM executives, however, are excluded from that benefit.

Regent Gene Gallegos said he supports the help for faculty and staff to protect them from a pay cut during tough economic times. “When somebody’s making $40,000, you’re barely getting by. They shouldn’t have pay cuts in this environment. We can cut in other places.”

The university initially projected it would face a $28 million shortfall next year. The gap for UNM’s main campus was reduced to about $12 million in early March through a variety of cuts, including less money for the university foundation and athletics.

T he tuition increase includes a 4 percent UNMadjusted ‍tuition credit, which bills students to offset state budget cuts. The remainder of the ‍tuition ‍increase, about 4.6 percent, would go toward balancing the university budget.

Meeting

UNM regents will meet at 9 a.m. Monday in the Student Union Building Ballroom C to consider next year’s budget.