Enrollment at New Mexico’s colleges and universities has been dropping steadily for years and revenue along with it. At the University of New Mexico, enrollment dropped by 3.2 percent last year alone.

So, it was no surprise when the University of New Mexico Board of Regents followed the script and once again raised tuition and fees. What was a surprise was a performance bonus paid to the UNM president even as the performance of New Mexico’s flagship university continues to decline.

The regents recently announced a 3 percent increase in tuition, along with an additional $100 athletic fee and a $107 student health and counseling services fee. Last year, tuition for full-time undergraduate students went up 21 percent. Even though UNM continues to be an attractive option for those seeking an affordable, high-quality college education, the regents should be at least as focused on attracting new students as the dollars they represent. Forcing students to pick up the slack for the university’s underperformance is unsustainable.

Although the number of New Mexico high school graduates continues to grow, in-state enrollment at New Mexico’s postsecondary schools is dropping. UNM’s in-state student population has dropped by almost 19 percent in the last five years at a cost of some $15 million a year.

Perhaps more important, UNM is awarding fewer and fewer degrees. In the last four years, the total number of bachelor’s degrees dropped by 6.7 percent, and the number of master’s degrees awarded was down 9 percent. UNM’s College of Education — essential to addressing New Mexico’s teacher shortage — graduated 110 fewer students in 2020 than in 2017, a 30 percent decline.

While New Mexico’s executive and legislative branches are working hard to get a high-quality teacher into every classroom as a critical step toward improving our public schools, UNM is standing on the sidelines. And last year, UNM awarded zero degrees in early childhood and multicultural education, a concern of the Martinez/Yazzie educational sufficiency lawsuit. Zero.

The regents’ contract with the university president provides the school’s chief executive will receive a $50,000 bonus for meeting certain goals. In October, the regents assessed performance for the prior year and awarded $49,000, plus $10,000 for the extra stresses of managing a major university during a pandemic. No doubt, negotiating the public health crisis was worth a reward — honestly, we all deserve a bonus for the year we just went through — but something is off with the performance measures, or the regents’ perceptions of performance, if a continual decline in enrollment, revenue and degrees merits a prize.

The Legislature has invested heavily in higher-education instruction to help ensure high school graduates can continue their education in New Mexico. As legislators, we hear virtually every day from employers in the state who need more college graduates. New Mexico’s universities must do more to reverse the downward trend in enrollment and graduates. At almost twice the size as the next closest school, much of that burden falls on UNM.

State Rep. Patricia Lundstrom, a Democrat, is executive director of the Greater Gallup Economic Development Corp. She has served in the New Mexico Legislature representing McKinley and San Juan counties since January 2001. She is chairwoman of the Legislative Finance Committee and House Appropriations and Finance Committee.

(1) comment

Khal Spencer

The Regents are not in it as academic experts. They are political appointees. Its appalling that when fewer students are enrolling, the Regents allow such staggering increases in tuition and tack on "athletic fees".

Division I athletics are a state subsidy to professional sports teams and a perk to sports junkies. They have nothing to do with higher education. Students should not be subsidizing this garbage. Its about time we appointed regents who cared about education rather than their own, sometimes irrelevant, narrow interests.

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