Despite the state budget battle between New Mexico's governor and lawmakers that's left higher education caught in the middle, local educators at the University of New Mexico-Taos are conducting their day-to-day operations as normally as possible while the Legislature prepares for a May 24 special session.
According to a press release from Gov. Susana Martinez, higher education will be one of the focuses on the agenda for the special session. Martinez line-item vetoed a budget proposal that would have granted more than $700 million for colleges and universities for the next year. Educators across the state from the New Mexico Council of University Presidents expressed their concerns to the governor and asked to restore the $744.8 million for their operations in the 2017-18 school year.
"I don't think anyone in higher ed thinks that we're not going to have money," said Dr. Marty Hewlett, interim CEO of UNM-Taos. "The real question for us is, 'What would be the percent cut from our current budget?' Hypothetically, if we did receive zero from the state, we wouldn't be able to fund our operations."
UNM-Taos received $3,707,900 from state funding for the 2016-17 school year, a 2.1 percent decrease from the previous year. In total, UNM-Taos operates on a nearly $12 million budget. The branch university spends more than $8 million annually on instruction and general funds. That total includes teacher salaries and keeping the lights on in the buildings. From tuition and fees, UNM-Taos received $1,426,275 for the 2016-17 school year, which means the state contributions to higher education make up a significant portion of the school's income.
Hewlett said the university will not be looking at eliminating any teacher positions for the 2017-18 school year and that summer classes will still be enrolling students as normal.
"This budget issue is not something we are taking to mean that we should put anything on hold," said Hewlett. "We're going ahead with our plans and if we do get a reduction, we have made plans so we can cover a potential loss from the state."
The more than 1,300 students currently attending UNM-Taos may have to deal with a tuition increase set by the board of regents of UNM and the advisory board for the branch's future semesters. However, the university is trying to not increase tuition for at least a year. Hewlett said tuition raises would be a worst-case scenario effort to raise additional funds and that UNM-Taos tuition is set independently from main campus. UNM main campus students saw a 2.5 percent tuition increase and a 10.4 percent student fee increase from the past year.
"Our worry is that if we raise tuition, fewer people might choose to come to school," said Hewlett. "We really want to encourage people to come to school. Our emphasis is going to be on increasing enrollment."
UNM-Taos is the third most-funded branch of UNM, behind the Gallup and Valencia campuses. UNM-Taos officials remain optimistic for the special session of the Legislature and don't anticipate significant cuts, but are braced for the worst.
The UNM-Taos branch allows students to complete their first two years of university instruction in any degree field and then transfer to any four-year institution. The branch offers affordable alternatives to main campus tuition rates, where a New Mexico resident in Albuquerque would pay nearly $7,000 per year. A year at UNM-Taos costs less than $2,000 per year. Several degree programs are offered at UNM-Taos and those interested are encouraged to call admissions at (575) 737-6245.