College funds may be stable despite enrollment drops

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Colleges and universities in New Mexico that experienced drops in enrollment may not be penalized, according to New Mexico Higher Education Department Secretary Beverlee McClure.

The Department is considering a provision that would shelter college and university budgets for one year, according to higher education officials who met Friday at the Clovis Community College.

“We would hold funding at the same level and the institutions would have to earn back money,” McClure told representatives from five regional colleges who attended the meeting.

Clovis Community College is one of five institutions that experienced enrollment declines last year. Others include Western New Mexico University at Silver City, Eastern New Mexico University’s Ruidoso campus, University of New Mexico’s Los Alamos campus and the New Mexico Junior College at Hobbs.

McClure said a task force would recommend the provision to the New Mexico Legislature in the next few weeks.

Under the provision, budgets for the five institutions would be kept intact, and the institutions would have access to the money as enrollment increased.

“Institutions would be working against the deficit,” she said.

The impact of such a provision would be minimal, McClure told Freedom Newspapers. About $6 million would be needed to protect the budgets, she said.

Representatives from Clovis Community College, Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Junior College, New Mexico Military Institute and Mesalands Community College attended Friday’s Higher Education Department meeting.

The meeting was held primarily to allow institutions to share their fiscal needs with officials from the Department, which lobbies the legislature on their behalf.

Problems with the state’s funding formula have been highlighted as institutions statewide have struggled to hold onto their funding, McClure told Freedom Newspapers.

The formula is based on enrollment and the number of classes in which students are enrolled. Those figures are collected on the 21st day of enrollment, McClure said.

A 5 percent decline in enrollment corresponds to a loss in funding, according to education officials. CCC’s enrollment declined by about 10 percent last year. As a result of the thriving economy and issues with Cannon Air Force Base, CCC President John Neibling said the slip could continue into 2008.

McClure said a performance-based funding formula is being considered instead by Department officials.

“Institutions are not rewarded for graduating students and student success,” McClure told Freedom Newspapers.

McClure said student success is a major goal of higher education, and institutions should be “funded accordingly.”

The New Mexico Higher Education task force is also set to make recommendations for a new funding formula in coming weeks.