By: Will VanOrder
Do you know who voted against the tuition increase last semester? Or who handles the budget of the University? While there are many partial-credit answers, the NMSU Board of Regents is involved in almost every decision of significance on campus.
On Wednesday, October 19 the Board of Regents met for the third time in the fall semester to discuss a variety of topics. Debra Hicks currently serves as the chair of the Board, with Mike Hicks serving as Vice-Chair.
One of the first topics addressed was the on-campus housing needs. Tom Hutchinson of the real estate committee spoke of future funding plans for development of the east campus side of NMSU. “The next several weeks will be spent working on other financial details before having it brought forward for approval,” Hutchinson said. The real estate committee is also encouraging the sale of 6.8 acres on the east portion of campus instead of leasing it out through a private public partnership. This plan would ideally bring in significantly more revenue on the front end of the project as opposed to dispersed over years of payments. This would directly affect the Aggie Uptown project, however nothing has been finalized.
Next on the table was the budget committee. One of the largest points of the committee was the financial cuts which have occurred over the last few years may continue. This has led to “dangerously low” funds in some areas according to Chairmen Adolpho Telles. According to Telles, even if the state’s economy turns around, reserves will need to be rebuilt, which means that the economy remains a concern.
One issue brought to light by the budget committee was the concern of accreditation. According to Telles, the staffing problems experienced by NMSU has led to the conversation of how to remain accredited. “You have so many tools in your toolbox,” Telles said. “And I think there’s a lot of good things being done in addressing expenditures and how we are reducing those which are less valuable.” Telles also mentioned the concern of raising tuition and fees. He strongly recommended using a tuition increase to help offset the economic state for the next few years.
On the topic of student success, the focus was primarily on the “Vision 2020” plan. Some of the goals included moving back to an 18,000 student attendance which was last achieved in 2010. The point was made that a one percent increase in retention would have a positive impact of roughly $800,000.
ASNMSU President Matt Bose was given time to speak, and chose to focus on the new partnership with Corbett to create the “Snooze Saloon.” It is a one-year pilot which he is hopeful will result in a successful program for future years.
Policy updates were promoted to help make the board more efficient, with no great detail being given, and the changes making virtually no difference to the student body. Mention was made of the NMSU equestrian team, and what seemed like a program destined to be cut might get a second chance. An amendment was made to determine whether or not the team would get cut at the end of the season, removing the inevitability of the decision made over the summer. The amendment also clarified that if the team is cut, adequate time will be given for the student athletes affected to find a new program to compete with.
During his time speaking in the meeting, Chancellor Gary Carruthers stayed focused on five main points. These were enrollment, retention, employability, research, and alumni giving.
In regards to enrollment, Carruthers acknowledged a gap between present and desirable numbers. The Chancellor also alluded to several ways NMSU can grow the enrollment- focusing on how to branch out to a wider number of students in the relative area of El Paso and Mexico.
On the topic of graduate enrollment, the target percentage for NMSU is 20 percent. Plans to meet this number also include an agreement with Mexico. Mexico has stated they want to send 100,000 graduate students to the United States over the next ten years, and Carruthers argued that NMSU is in a prime location to reap the benefits of that.
Retention is a point where Carruthers promoted the pathway plan, which includes going to community colleges before coming to main campus for sake of avoiding intimidation. “I have theory that you can’t graduate someone unless you retain them,” Carruthers said. The rates for retention are not where the university would like them to be.
Provost Dan Howard followed Carruthers in speaking order, with his first order of business pointing out a list of majors willing to move to 120 credit hours from 128. “A lot of the pending programs are waiting to see what happens with the revamping of general education in the State,” Howard said. “Once we know exactly what will happen with core curriculum, I think we can expect to see even more majors agree to make the change.” There are currently 74 majors willing to make the change, 14 pending, and five which have said no outright.
Provost Howard also made a mention to retention, which is down to 71.3 percent from 73.1 percent among freshman from last year. Howard noted that the navigator program was brought on late last fall in regards to their original intent. “I’m not making excuse, we own this,” Howard said. “What I’m saying is we try and understand this and figure it out. We had a lot of students with a low first semester GPA, and a higher number of out of state students. Both increase risk.” Low income student retention dropped 15 percent, the largest drop among any category.
“College is hard, some people aren’t going to make it,” Howard said. “But we have faculty and advisors here who believe they are the first line; they are the first help to keep a student. If you look at this year where we cut $12.1 million, we increased investment in advising for the sake of retention. We recognize the importance.” Regent member Amanda Lopez brought to attention the possibility of using certain criteria to help predict potential high-risk students before they reach a critical point, to which Provost Howard responded by making note of the app that Student Success Navigators already use for that purpose.
The Regents ended their meeting at roughly 6:20 pm, with a closing remark for pondering. They believe the biggest threat to students is not debt, it is not graduating at all. “In a time when it says that the majority of jobs require post-secondary education, and we have people dropping out because they owe money to the University, we need to find out how to get them back,” Hicks said.
How does all of this affect the student body? The Board of Regents is a group of highly devoted staff and faculty committed to ensuring the longevity of the University through whatever means possible/necessary. At this meeting, they discussed the potential for tuition increases in the near future, the futures of programs which have been threatened in the past, and pointed out what areas of students are more likely to drop out than others.
They do more than point out problems though, these points made are in part solutions themselves. The budget cuts are expected to continue through the 2016-2017 fiscal year, and it is the Regents who have to take that into consideration. It is the Regents who also have to act out strategies that they themselves create to increase retention, improve employability upon graduation, and create a University experience that is as valuable as possible for the student body.