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Politics Zeroes Out New Mexico’s Higher Education Budget

SANTA FE, N.M. (CN) — In a continuing political struggle, the bipartisan New Mexico Legislative Council has sued Gov. Susana Martinez, claiming the Republican governor’s line-item vetoes of the entire budget for the Legislature and higher education is unconstitutional.

The request for original writ of mandamus in the New Mexico Supreme Court claims Martinez is seeking “to eviscerate the ability of the other branch [of government] to perform its essential functions.”

Martinez’s defunding of all higher education in New Mexico is payback for the state Senate’s refusal to approve her candidates for regents of the University of New Mexico, the Legislative Council says in the April 21 filing.

Martinez said in an executive message when signed the state’s appropriation bill that the Legislature “refused to bear their fair share of the burden” of budget cuts, increasing its own budget while refusing to appropriate it specifically and by category.

As for vetoing the funding for the state’s universities, Martinez said, “the funding for our higher education institutions and the confirmation of well-qualified regents can be addressed in the upcoming special session.”

Martinez’s spokesman Michael Lonergan called the lawsuit “an attempt to bully” the governor.  “They’re suing the governor because they want to raise taxes, and she’s the only one standing in their way,” Lonergan said.

But in an affidavit accompanying the lawsuit, David Abbey, director of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, said the Legislature’s budget for higher education was only about $51,000 more than Martinez recommended, an increase of less than 0.007 percent.

And a letter from the New Mexico Council of University Presidents states that the cuts to higher education constitute 44 percent of the cuts in the entire budget, while higher education accounts for only 12.8 percent of state spending.

The Legislative Council says the vetoes were an unconstitutional attempt to disable the Legislature and eliminate one branch of government entirely.

“Governor Martinez’s attempt to eliminate the funding for, and the ability of, a co-equal branch of government to perform their essential functions constitutes a violation of separation of powers,” the complaint states.

It asks the supreme court to invalidate the vetoes and to restore funding to the Legislature and state universities.

The Legislative Council is represented by Thomas Hnasko with Hinkle Shanor in Santa Fe.

Martinez’s spokesman Lonergan called the lawsuit “disappointing, because it shows a refusal to compromise, as this is nothing but an attempt to bully her by short-circuiting the legislative process before a special session.”

No date has been set for the expected special session.

Martinez has until May 5 to file a response, and the New Mexico Council of University Presidents is invited to file an amicus curiae brief.

The state supreme court will hear oral arguments on May 15.

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Eye on New Mexico: Higher education funding and New Mexico’s …

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Health Care vs. Higher Ed

When Republicans in the House of Representatives seemed to be nearing a vote on a health care reform bill last month, several prominent Democratic governors spoke out to criticize the proposed changes, arguing they would impose high costs on states.

California Governor Jerry Brown said that the proposed changes would cost California $6 billion per year by 2020. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said the federal reform bill would create a gap of almost $7 billion in the state’s budget because of changes to Medicaid reimbursements.

Republicans did not bring their bill to the floor for a vote after they were unable to drum up enough support amid intense opposition. But even without changes, many states are shouldering a larger share of Medicaid costs than they have been over the last several years.

They’re just doing it under existing law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which President Obama signed and President Trump sought to repeal. The way the current law was designed, states’ share of Medicaid costs is rising as the federal government pulls back on incentives it used to encourage them to expand the program. And when federal spending requirements for states grow, public funding for colleges and universities — one of the largest so-called discretionary pots of money most states control — tends to be the target. Consequently, the current law has drawn attention from higher education experts, because more spending requirements on states translates into more pressure on public funding for colleges and universities.

“Some states are going to be left really holding the bag,” said George Pernsteiner, president of the State Higher Education Executive Officers association. “It will put them in a pinch if they don’t have a booming economy. That’s what I worry about.”

The increased costs are connected to the federal funding mechanism underpinning the expansion of Medicaid, which covers many low-income children and adults and people with disabilities. States and the federal government share Medicaid costs under a patchwork of funding mechanisms, including the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage, or FMAP, which guarantees a minimum of $1 in federal matching funds for every $1 states spend on Medicaid. But the Affordable Care Act sought to entice states to expand Medicaid to cover adults with incomes of up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level.

It did so by paying 100 percent of the costs of such Medicaid expansion — but only for a limited time. The 100 percent federal match started in the 2014 calendar year but ended in January 2017, when it dropped to 95 percent. It is set to phase down to 90 percent in 2020 and remain at that level afterward.

Washington, D.C., and 31 states expanded Medicaid in response to the Affordable Care Act. That means they are now seeing their share of Medicaid costs rising.

When states adopted their budgets for the 2017 fiscal year, their share of Medicaid spending was expected to grow by 4.4 percent on average, according to an April report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The increase was expected in large part because of the decrease in federal funding for Medicaid expansion.

While 4.4 percent might not sound like an overwhelming increase, Medicaid spending is a massive portion of states’ budgets. Medicaid spending across all states totaled $509 billion in the 2015 fiscal year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. States paid 38 percent of the costs, with the federal government picking up the rest.

That means states spent about $193.4 billion on Medicaid in 2015. That dwarfs state higher education appropriations, which totaled about $83.6 billion across the country in 2016-17.

State legislators are essentially locked into spending on Medicaid. So when costs in that program rise, lawmakers have to either raise revenue through taxes and fees or find money in their discretionary budgets to reallocate. Higher education represents one of the few big-ticket discretionary items from which they can draw.

“They’re going to get the money somewhere,” Pernsteiner said. “Where they make the cuts is higher ed.”

Within individual states that expanded Medicaid, projections show costs mounting in coming years. Kentucky’s expenditures for Medicaid expansion are projected at $77.2 million for the 2016-17 fiscal year — a year in which the federal match rate only falls below 100 percent for six months. The expenditures under current law are expected to rise to $180.1 million in 2018, $224 million in 2019 and $306.3 million in 2020, according to state projections.

Kentucky is dealing with other budget pressures as well. By some estimates, the state has the worst-funded pension system of any state in the country — even worse than Illinois and New Jersey. Many believe dealing with that issue will be a major drain on state coffers.

The state’s Republican governor, Matt Bevin, has already shown a willingness to take funding that would have gone to higher education and put it toward pensions, said Robert L. King, president of the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education. Budget pressures add up, including from Medicaid, King said.

“Because it’s a mandated expenditure, it gets paid,” King said. “So our universities have been taking cuts consistently for the last decade. I can’t tell you that they are directly caused by Medicaid, but it certainly is a contributing factor.”

King has been watching trends between Medicaid funding and higher education funding since he was chancellor of the State University of New York System in the early 2000s.

“I remember reading studies at the time that showed that there was a pretty straight-line correlation between the growth in Medicaid costs and the reduction in state support for higher education,” he said.

A 2003 Brookings report found every new dollar in state Medicaid spending was related to a decline in higher education appropriations of about 6 cents to 7 cents.

In West Virginia, which also expanded Medicaid eligibility under the Affordable Care Act, health-care costs were wrapped up in a long budget standoff that left leaders worried about higher education funding. State revenue has been declining with energy markets, causing stress on the budget and a possible pinch on higher education funding, according to a spokesman for West Virginia University.

All of the pressures have real ramifications on the ground. West Virginia University’s president, E. Gordon Gee, issued a letter April 4 after the state’s Senate distributed a budget bill that would cut appropriations to the university by 15 percent. Such a cut would mean staff layoffs, increased tuition for students and major changes to other programs like the West Virginia University Extension Service and academic programs, Gee wrote.

“Our university has already lost nearly $29 million in base reductions compared to 2011,” Gee wrote. “This additional reduction will be devastating to West Virginia University and all of the other four-year institutions in this state.”

West Virginia lawmakers passed a budget Sunday at the end of their session that would cut higher education. But the budget did not follow a blueprint followed by the state’s governor, setting up a potential veto and extra session.

Cutting Medicaid coverage wouldn’t necessarily alleviate all funding pressures on universities, either. West Virginia University’s health-care arm, WVU Medicine, is the largest health-care provider in the state. Cutting Medicaid coverage would mean fewer patients getting treatment, said Clay Marsh, the vice president for health sciences at West Virginia University. It would also mean more patients putting off care and receiving costly treatment in emergency rooms — and providers often have to write off the cost of such services when patients can’t pay their bills.

Marsh estimated that not covering patients who are currently covered under Medicaid expansion would result in a loss of about $20 million annually for WVU Medicine.

“Some of the money that comes through the health-care delivery system comes back to the academic enterprise and educational enterprise to help train the state’s population,” Marsh said. “The expansion has been so powerful because we have such a large percentage of our population that has just started to be covered.”

In theory, states could raise taxes to generate enough revenue to cover the cost of Medicaid expansion while also keeping funding for higher education stable. Eight governors proposed new or increased provider taxes to help pay for Medicaid spending growth, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. But it’s not that simple, according to Iris Palmer, a senior policy analyst at the liberal-leaning think tank New America.

“People can say you can increase taxes, but there are definitely states where increasing taxes is not a political option,” she said. “In places where they have very high tax rates like Illinois or Connecticut or California, they don’t have a lot of room to increase taxes to cover their additional spending, I would argue.”

Experts believe the states that expanded Medicaid but have not fully recovered from the recession are generally in line for the biggest pinch to higher education budgets in coming years. Kentucky and West Virginia, with their energy-focused economies, are good examples. But they’re not the only ones. Oregon, for example, faces a $1.6 billion shortfall in its upcoming two-year budget cycle. About $1 billion of that comes from health-care costs, including reduced federal support for Medicaid expansion.

Meanwhile, Oregon universities are expecting less state funding. Portland State University is proposing a 9 percent tuition hike and potentially $9 million in cuts because of lower state funding and other pressures like rising wage and benefit costs. Six of the state’s seven public universities plan to raise tuition by at least 5 percent, according to The Oregonian.

Farther south on the West Coast, the California State University system is facing challenges if expensive changes to federal Medicaid funding proceed, said a spokeswoman, Toni Molle.

“If ACA costs do shift to the state and the state chooses to fund health care over universities, it has that choice,” Molle said in an email. “It would not be our choice, but a choice that state lawmakers and the governor would have to make.”

Meanwhile, there have been efforts in some states that did not expand Medicaid previously to do so now. Kansas lawmakers, for instance, narrowly missed approving an expansion this month after Governor Sam Brownback rejected a bill that would have expanded Medicaid and they fell a few votes short of overturning his veto.

To some, the costs associated with Medicaid funding changes are just the latest in a long trend of competition for state resources playing out between health care and education. They believe the competition will continue into the future.

“Health care is in a permanent competition with higher education,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, research professor and director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce. “Higher ed has neither legal protection nor budgetary protection. It is the lone standing discretionary spending, except for prisons.”

Carnevale said the future could turn into a grim picture where higher education loses enough resources at the margins that public colleges and universities can no longer expand access to new student populations or provide them with the support they need to graduate. Large public research universities with diverse funding streams will survive, and community colleges will, too.

But other institutions in the middle — those that depend on state revenue and tuition — could die. Those institutions educate a large number of students.

That would imperil the American form of higher education, where all students have access to a general education with liberal arts and elective courses, Carnevale said.

“This is going to be a test of the American model,” Carnevale said. “It’s a test of the model on equity grounds, in particular, because it’s about a dual system that’s emerging that gives general education plus a major to more affluent and white people and more specific education to black, brown, working-class and low-income people.”

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Experts: Cut to NIH Funding Would be ‘Devastating’


by Jamaal Abdul-Alim

The White House’s proposed $5.8 billion cut to the National Institutes of Health would be “devastating to the American people” and a “dramatic setback to medical progress.”

Those are some of the assessments proffered about the preliminary budget released earlier this year by the administration of President Donald J. Trump. A more detailed budget is expected in the coming weeks.

Dr. Raynard S. Kington, president of Grinnell College, is former acting director of NIH under President George W. Bush and President Barack H. Obama.

One of the fiercest opponents of the proposed $5.8 billion cut to NIH — which would take the federal agency’s spending down to $25.9 billion — is Grinnell College president Dr. Raynard S. Kington, former acting director of NIH under President George W. Bush and President Barack H. Obama.

Kington said the proposed cuts to NIH “suggest an extraordinary level of ignorance about the important new knowledge and innovation that comes out of that funding.”

“I think it would be devastating to the American people to implement the cuts that are being proposed,” Kington said. “I just think the proposals are short-sighted, they are anti-knowledge, anti-intellectual, and they just would be extraordinarily bad for the future and well-being of our country.”

Kington cited the need for a “whole continuum” of research in order to make new medical breakthroughs on things that range from childhood leukemia to obesity. He said the private sector is “never going to do the basic research in a way that a developed society needs.”

Kington is by no means the lone critic of the proposed cuts to NIH.

Suzanne Ffolkes, vice president of communications at Research!America, an Arlington, Virginia-based nonprofit public education and advocacy alliance, decried the proposed cuts as “a dramatic setback to medical progress.”

“Americans who expect research to advance at the level of scientific opportunity will be deeply concerned about the short- and long-term impact of steep funding cuts as it relates to the discovery, development, and delivery of new treatments to complex diseases and finding cures,” Ffolkes said.

She said robust investments are necessary to support public and private sector research and new technology that helps to deepen scientific understanding of genetic mutations and cancer cells.

“If we hope to continue to make great strides in immunotherapy treatment for cancer, for example, we must have sustained, predictable increases for the NIH,” Ffolkes said.

Ffolkes cited statistics from a Research!America survey that found 63 percent of Americans “agree that basic scientific research, even if it brings no immediate benefits, should be supported by the federal government.”

The survey also found that more than half — 52 percent — are willing to pay $1 per week more in taxes if they were certain that all of the money would be spent on additional medical research.

“Patients anxiously waiting for the next medical breakthrough to improve their quality of life will be impacted, as innovative studies are shelved or delayed by insufficient funding,” Ffolkes said. “The careers of many young scientists will be in jeopardy as they compete for fewer grants.”

NIH explains on this webpage about its budget that it invests “nearly $32.3 billion annually in medical research for the American people.”

“More than 80 percent of the NIH’s funding is awarded through almost 50,000 competitive grants to more than 300,000 researchers at more than 2,500 universities, medical schools, and other research institutions in every state and around the world,” the page states.

This link shows nearly 14,000 projects funded by NIH at institutions of higher education in fiscal 2017. The projects range from a $4.9 million project at Duke University known as “Duke Clinical Good Manufacturing Practices Facility for HIV/AIDS Vaccine Production,” to a $118,000 project at Howard University titled “Genetic Signatures Underlying Prostate Cancer Metastasis in African Americans.”

Diverse reached out to the NIH for comment but was referred to a statement issued earlier this year by Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. HHS is the parent agency of NIH.

“HHS is dedicated to fulfilling our department’s mission to improve the health and well-being of the American people,” Price said in the statement. “This budget supports that mission and will help ensure we are delivering critical services to our fellow citizens in the most efficient and effective manner possible.”

Kington, the former NIH head, had no shortage of examples of medical breakthroughs that came out of the NIH to demonstrate the agency’s value.

For instance, he said the AZT treatment that helps treat sufferers of HIV came out of NIH — as documented in this brief history that mentions the role that Duke University played in the first trials.

“Millions of people are alive today who wouldn’t be alive otherwise,” Kington said.

Dr. Louis J. DeGennaro, president and CEO of The Leukemia Lymphoma Society, also decried the proposed cuts to NIH.

“These cuts risk derailing decades of advancement in the diagnosis, understanding and treatment of deadly blood cancers,” DeGennaro said in a statement that calls on members of Congress to reject the cuts to NIH.

“While the Budget Blueprint is not clear as to how cuts will be applied, if they are allocated proportionally across NIH, they represent a nearly $1 billion cut to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which will devastate the landscape of cancer research,” DeGennaro said.

He noted that the budget cuts would be “widespread and much broader than just blood cancer.”

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at [email protected] or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.

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Op-Ed: To return state to prosperity, fund higher education | Opinion …

In today’s economy, it’s a perilous proposition for anyone to ignore the reality that for our youth, the best path to a middle-class job is through college, with a four-year degree a vital way post.

It’s imperative that we take steps to recognize the vital role of our public universities in creating college graduates for Michigan and for our state to reinvest in our talented students in a major way.

Let’s start with the data. Nationally, since 2010, the U.S. economy has added 11.6 million jobs. Of those, 72 percent went to those with a four-year degree or beyond. Here in Michigan, less than one-third of residents possess a four-year degree. Less than 1 percent of new jobs went to those with a high school diploma or less.

That means we are missing out on many well-paying jobs being created in America, and Michigan in particular. And make no mistake, if our state’s youth want to earn a good living, work steadily and not face frequent layoffs, they will need a four-year degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median weekly earnings of someone with a bachelor’s degree is $1,137, and the unemployment rate of those with a bachelor’s degree is 2.8 percent. By comparison, those with an associate degree or its equivalent are earning on average $798 a week, with an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent.

We know cutting taxes doesn’t help attract college graduates. We’ve cut our state’s effective tax rate by 25 percent since 2000 — cutting support for universities and cities along the way — and we have still lost population, particularly college graduates. The places attracting college graduates are cities such as Chicago and Minneapolis (which are not low-tax communities). Michigan’s failure to attract sufficient numbers of college graduates makes it more important than ever that we “home grow” our talent by making it possible for more state high school graduates to have access to affordable public universities.

The state’s higher education marketplace is speaking. From 2008 to 2016, enrollment at the state’s community colleges and private colleges fell by 15 percent. Meanwhile, they grew by 1 percent at Michigan’s public universities, even as the number of high school graduates was declining. That’s not enough to meet the demand for college graduates, and universities are pushing to get more students ready to enroll and succeed in achieving a four-year degree.

Those students attending public universities do their homework. They know that Michigan’s public universities have a similar or lower net cost of attendance (all costs minus financial aid) compared to others around the nation — and all have higher post-graduate earnings than the national average.

They know that our universities’ graduation rate, on average, is 66 percent, even though only 44 percent of our students attend full time. That’s better than in most states, and universities are not complacent about that figure. Each one is implementing new programs and using success strategies to increase that figure.

Some argue that because Michigan universities don’t graduate every student immediately, and every student doesn’t stay in Michigan, we shouldn’t support our universities. That’s not a very strategic look at the situation. A recent review of students graduating from Michigan Technological University found that the state income tax paid just by its most recent class of graduates more than offset the increase in state appropriations the university received. In other words, state tax dollars invested in higher education have a real, quick and tangible return on investment.

Despite this reality, Michigan has cut operating support for college students from $9,387 a year in 2000 (in 2017 dollars) to $5,217 per student today — a 44 percent drop. That’s forced universities to raise tuition, and cut back on programs in certain areas. This state-to-student cost shift in paying for a public college education in Michigan has resulted in higher “sticker price” tuition rates, and ultimately, student loan debt levels.

One of the reasons less than half of our students attend college full-time is this lack of financial assistance. The state of Michigan slashed its need-based financial aid to students while it also cut operating support, in turn putting the onus on public universities to allocate huge sums toward financial aid to ensure college access to low- and middle-income families. The state’s nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency even published a report showing that tuition increases are entirely explainable by state funding reductions, institutional financial aid increases and inflation.

Michigan today ranks 32nd in the nation in the share of college graduates in its population. It also ranks 32nd in the nation in per capita income. The two numbers are inextricably linked.

If we want to put our state back on the path to prosperity, the best strategy is to prepare, retain and attract college graduates. Given the difficulty we have had in attracting adequate levels of talent required to power Michigan’s economy, the state’s wisest policy would be to redouble investment in our state’s college students and in its public universities.

Daniel J. Hurley is chief executive officer of the Michigan Association of State Universities, based in Lansing.

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Lawsuits Planned For Governor’s Higher Education Funding Vetos …

Governor Susana Martinez this week promised that higher education will get its funding back in a special session she’ll call soon. That’s after university leaders called on her to restore nearly $750 million dollars she vetoed from next year’s proposed state budget. 

Late April is finals time at the University of New Mexico, which means students have more pressing things to worry about than a state budget crisis.

I talked to more than a dozen UNM students on campus this week to see what they think about state funding being set to zero out on July 1. David Rodriguez, a sophomore from Rio Rancho, was the only one who’d heard about it.

“College is expensive enough, so I’d rather it stay where it’s at, not go up,” said Rodriguez, who relies partially on a lottery scholarship for his tuition. “I work at Chik-Fil-A, so I don’t make that much money. So it definitely would affect me.”

Down in Las Cruces, Mathew Bose, president of the Associated Students of New Mexico State University, said there’s been confusion among his peers.  

“A lot of students think that after that happened, the school was going to shut down the next day,” says Bose. “We’re just trying to reassure students this thing’s going to get resolved, it’s just going to take some time.”

NMSU has already seen layoffs as the university goes through a restructuring to deal with round after round of budget cuts. 

Governor Martinez, meanwhile, has been traveling the state and sending somewhat mixed messages about her higher education veto. Her main message is that lawmakers sent her $350 million in new taxes and fees she couldn’t approve. We tried to talk to the governor for this story but couldn’t get an interview. But Martinez told the Roswell Daily Record last week that enrollment was way down without adjusting the budget. She implied higher education may not need all that money.

“Unfortunately, throughout the state we have a decrease in enrollment by 30 percent,” said Martinez. “So there just needs to be a closer look, but I have no doubt there will be funding for higher education.”

Marc Saavedra, executive director of the Council of University Presidents, said, to the contrary, statewide enrollment last year was slightly up from 2008 numbers, while funding is down.

“There are 400 more students than there were 10 years ago, so our response is, but our funding is $50 million dollars less than it was ten years ago,” said Saavedra.

The university presidents in a statement this week urged the governor to restore funding at the level proposed by lawmakers to avoid dramatic tuition increases and layoffs.

“We are also concerned with the timing,” said Saavedra, “in terms of instability that it shows.” Normally, colleges and universities are required to send their budget plans to the state by May 1, 2017. Saavedra says that deadline has now been suspended until further notice. 

The Council of University Presidents is also worried about accreditation, Saavedra says, which makes a school legitimate in the eyes of the federal government and allows students to get financial aid, among other things. The Higher Learning Commission, the regional body that accredits New Mexico schools, confirmed in a statement that it could implement sanctions if schools don’t have the “resources necessary to provide quality higher education.”

The Taos News posted video of an event in Taos Tuesday where Martinez told reporters she expected to call a special session “in the next few days to a week and a half or so.” That came as a surprise to Democratic Speaker of the House Brian Egolf, who said in an interview Wednesday that he hadn’t heard any specific timeline from the governor. Nor has he heard any details on a compromise.

KUNM reached out to several Republican lawmakers to get their take on the budget negotiations, but did not get any response.

Egolf said the governor’s vetos total more than $2 billion. “This has never happened anywhere in the United States, in its entire history,” he said. “Not since 1789 has an executive attempted to abolish constitutionally created institutions like UNM with a line item veto.”

New Mexico’s higher education veto has already prompted comparisons to Illinois, where two years without a permanent state budget has taken a serious toll on public universities. This month, one Illinois university had its credit rating downgraded after it cancelled three days of classes, and Moody’s Investors Service says six more public universities are at risk. 

Egolf said it’s one thing to veto an entire budget, which causes appropriations to revert to the previous year’s budget. What’s extraordinary about New Mexico’s current standoff, he said, is that the governor signed a new budget with gaping holes in it.

“That will take effect July 1 without any funding for the legislature and higher education and all the other things she line item vetoed,” explained Egolf. “That’s what makes this unprecedented, is we don’t have a previous budget to fall back on, for the universities to be funded at the previous year’s level. They have nothing at all.”

The Legislative Council voted to take legal action against the governor’s vetos, which they believe are unconstitutional. Egolf said they’ll file lawsuits with the state Supreme Court before lawmakers even get to a special session.  


The People, Power and Democracy project examines ethics, transparency and accountability in state government. The project is funded by the Thornburg Foundation and by contributions from KUNM listeners.

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State Funding for Higher Education Slipped in Fiscal 2016 – WSJ

States remained stingy in funding public institutions of higher education last year, and midyear cuts to fiscal 2017 budgets and early signs from fiscal 2018 discussions suggest many will continue to dole out limited funds to their local colleges and universities.

Average per-student funding fell to $6,954 in fiscal 2016 from $7,082 in fiscal 2015, according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. The nationwide decline, which takes into account an inflation measure based on…

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UL Joins In Fight For Higher Education Funding And TOPS At ULS …

UL joined several other Louisiana Universities at the State Capitol to not only fight for higher education funding but also TOPS at University of Louisiana System Day.

“We’re going to be more effective if we work together than if we work separately.” said UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie.

Dr. Savoie added all he is asking for is stable funding.

“When you’re getting bounced around like a ping pong ball, it makes those things very difficult and it affects faculty, quality of facilities and ultimately it affects the quality of education our students receive.” he said.

Eric Vandvelde is a freshman Political Science Major at UL.

Without TOPS, he said he would not be in school right now.

“Our generation is the generation that’s going to keep Louisiana going, right. We’re going to be the next in line and if we keep funding tops and educate our students, it means better things for our state in the future.” said Vandvelde.

House Speaker Taylor Darras of New Iberia attended Wednesday’s rally to let students and faculty know, higher education is a top priority for the legislature this year.

However to keep TOPS, Barras explained the challenge for lawmakers is to strike a balance for the growing program.

“If we continue to let it grow out of control, then we could end sacrificing it for a lot of people in the future as well so balancing it, controlling the cost while still giving a reasonable reward to the students is truly the goal to protecting the program for a long time to come.” said Barras.


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The Next Higher-Ed Funding Battle to Watch May Be in New Mexico …

It’s rare for a governor to remove all higher-education funding from a state budget, but that’s exactly what happened in New Mexico. Gov. Susana Martinez, a Republican, earlier this month vetoed nearly $745 million for New Mexico’s public colleges and universities, shocking the state’s academic leaders.

The move has also elicited surprise from observers nationally, but it’s unlikely to be final. Ms. Martinez expects the situation to be resolved soon, according to a spokesman for the governor, Michael Lonergan.

“The governor met just a few days ago with legislative leadership, and she’s optimistic they can work together to solve the budget crisis,” he wrote in an email. “We hope to have a deal soon, and when we do the governor will call a special session that will, among other things, restore funding for our colleges and universities.”

That statement echoes previous remarks by Ms. Martinez, that she would approve funding for the universities and colleges so long as lawmakers bring her a budget that doesn’t involve a tax increase.

But the action carries echoes of a continuing budget impasse in Illinois that has left public colleges without permanent funding from their state for just under 22 months. Lawmakers there have approved several rounds of emergency funding — most recently, $17 million to help three colleges through the year.

But New Mexico’s higher-education system is especially beleaguered — and its most prominent public colleges may feel pain that the top Illinois institutions have not. The system’s current budget is 7.5 percent smaller than the previous fiscal year’s. Next year’s budget, if restored to the pre-veto level proposed by legislators, would be about 1 percent less than the current budget, according to The Albuquerque Journal.

A spokesman for New Mexico State University, Justin Bannister, said that university is currently building a budget based on the pre-veto amounts. He added the university needs Ms. Martinez and the State Legislature to come to an agreement. “We’re hopeful that will happen before July 1,” Mr. Bannister said.

Craig White, provost at the University of New Mexico, said that institution’s budget planning process is currently on hold. But Mr. White said no one is planning on zero state funding.

“That’s not really what we’re expecting,” he said, adding that the university had planned on a tighter budget, compared to the previous year.

“It’s a continuation of that trend of things getting tighter and tighter,” Mr. White said.

The leaders of the state’s four-year universities wrote in a recent letter to Ms. Martinez that they feared students might flee the state to find cheaper education and that faculty members could be eyeing more stable employment at other institutions. State funding covers about 50 to 60 percent of their instruction and general operations budgets, according to the letter.

“The message the veto sent to our 133,505 registered students and their families, while unintended, leaves them confused and wondering whether they should enroll in a New Mexico college or whether they’ll be able to finish their degree and graduate,” the presidents wrote.

They also said that without state funding, tuition, which is $6,950 at the state’s flagship, could almost triple to cover the lost revenue.

An Unflattering Spotlight

The budget situation in New Mexico has drawn national attention that could make any educator considering working in the state balk: “New Mexico Gov. Martinez vetoes higher education funding. All of it,” read a recent headline in The Washington Post.

As the headlines unfold, the state’s flagship institution, the University of New Mexico, is in the middle of its search for its next president. Its prior leader, Robert G. Frank, negotiated an early exit from that office amid a dispute with the board. That conflict too bore plenty of negative headlines. The university is also drawing criticism for firing its basketball coach, Craig Neal, at a cost of $1 million to the institution.

Meanwhile, at the state’s second-largest university, the president of New Mexico State University, Garrey Carruthers is in the middle of a restructuring that has already included layoffs and could result in the combination or culling of some programs.

For instance, the university’s College of Education will morph its five divisions into three. Other changes drill down to the smallest details, such as the way office supplies are ordered.

Smaller institutions have suffered as well. In the northwestern portion of the state, San Juan Community College had to cancel cellphone plans, restrict travel, and even lay people off.

And at public colleges and universities across the state, enrollment has dropped, from roughly 153,167 in the fall of 2011 to the current enrollment of about 133,505, which of course means a decline in tuition dollars.

The leaders of the four-year institutions also echoed a need for a fast decision in their letter to the governor. “Action needs to be taken quickly,” they wrote. “It is our hope that the executive and the Legislature will work expeditiously to resolve their differences and allow higher education to continue its role in improving New Mexico and its work force for future generations.”

Chris Quintana is a breaking-news reporter. Follow him on Twitter @cquintanadc or email him at

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State Funding for Higher Education Slipped in Fiscal 2016

States remained stingy in funding public institutions of higher education last year, and midyear cuts to fiscal 2017 budgets and early signs from fiscal 2018 discussions suggest many will continue to dole out limited funds to their local colleges and universities.

Average per-student funding fell to $6,954 in fiscal 2016 from $7,082 in fiscal 2015, according to a new report from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association. The nationwide decline, which takes into account an inflation measure based on…

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