By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer
Former Clovis Community College President Beverlee McClure bowed down from that position last August to become New Mexico’s first secretary of higher education.
The Odessa, Texas, native oversees a staff of 33, which is expected to grow by 13 positions in the next year, she said.
In April 2005, the New Mexico Higher Education Department was forged with the intent of strengthening institutions of higher education in the state, McClure said.
A report from the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education indicated a lack of coordination and accountability among the state’s 26 public two- and four-year colleges and universities.
New Mexico and Louisiana were the only states that received failing grades in preparing students for education and training beyond high school, the 2004 report showed. Such deficiencies spurred the creation of the department, McClure said.
The Clovis News Journal interviewed McClure Friday about the progress of her department, its future and recent local events.
Q: What has been your proudest accomplishment so far as secretary of higher education?
A: There are two. First is the team we put together. We have a good, diverse, energetic group of people, and we almost literally started from scratch.
The second is the $49 million we secured for the College Affordability Act. This is the first time in the state that there has been funding for needs-based aid.
(The financial aid will be available this fall to students who qualify.)
Q: What has been your biggest obstacle in the office?
A: Bureaucracy — making sure we go through the state government processes. Most of us here (in the New Mexico Higher Education Department) are new to state government. That has been the biggest adjustment for all of us. A lot of us were hired straight from working at colleges and universities. We are responsible for distributing millions of dollars. In the department, our biggest responsibility is assuring that money is given to the institutions in an appropriate and timely fashion.
Here if you want to buy a pencil, it is amazing the number of forms you have to fill out.
Q: What is your biggest goal for this year?
A: Our biggest goal is to finalize strategic priorities for higher education in our state. Right now, there is no strategic plan for higher education in our state. On Friday, we will put finishing touches on a strategic plan. Then, it will be finalized to three to five priorities.
Of course, we will have the students in mind as we craft those.
How do we make sure (New Mexicans) have access to higher education? How do we tie higher education to K-12 education, and to economic and work force development?
Q: Some said that they expected you to lobby more on behalf of Clovis Community College in the 30-day legislative session. What is your response to such criticism?
A: It is not my job to lobby for a specific college. They have a full-time lobbyist, Tom Drake, onboard. Certainly, as the secretary of higher education, I cannot take a stand for one college over another. Maybe people had trouble adjusting to that role. I lobby for all of our higher education institutes. They received more funding this year than they ever had in the past. It is unfortunate that CCC did not do as well. But that falls to the president, the lobbyists and the local board.
Q: What do you think of the recent CCC Board of Trustees decision to hire John Neibling of Arizona as your successor? The decision upset some Clovis residents who supported interim CCC president Becky Rowley, a Clovis native, for the position.
A: In all honesty, local government is one of the strongest pieces of higher education. It doesn’t matter what the secretary of higher education thinks; it matters what the local board thinks.
They made the decision they thought was in the best interest of the college.
Q: There has also been criticism of New Mexico’s lottery scholarship program, which provides tuition scholarship for New Mexico high school graduates attending New Mexico public post-secondary institutions of higher education. Created by the New Mexico Legislature, the program is funded from lottery revenues with the intention of making higher education more accessible to New Mexico high school students. Some say the program falls short of that goal. What is your opinion?
A: The lottery scholarship is a successful program. It has been recognized as such at the national level. The criticisms I have heard focus on eligibility. Right now, military dependents stationed outside the state do not qualify for aid and students of tribal colleges do not qualify for aid. We tried to get it expanded to include those groups (in the 2006 legislative session), and we will try again in 2007 session. The reason we created the College Affordability Act is to help students who do not qualify for the lottery scholarship. Finances should not be a barrier to anyone attending our institutions.
Q: How can we combat rising tuition and service fees?
A: We haven’t done a good job of marketing what (aid) is available to students. We haven’t told our story. We are focusing on doing that through local financial aid offices.
Q: How have you adapted to life in Santa Fe?
A: I like Santa Fe, but it’s always nice to come back to Clovis and play golf with all my golfing buddies. I have had the chance to come back for a few cultural events and ribbon-cuttings at (Clovis Community College).
Q: What do you miss most about Clovis?
A: What I miss most are the people I worked with, my colleagues and my friends.