By Bill Knief
Fall enrollment is now officially over at UNM-Taos, and we’re well into our fourth week of classes. The numbers are still coming in that give us an in-depth profile of our student body: their age, gender, ethnicity, career and academic goals, and many other factors that, when compared to previous years, tell us how we’re doing.
One of the most important figures in the fall, because it determines our level of funding for the semester, is the total number of students enrolled, or “head count”. If this number drops just three percent for two consecutive semesters, our already lean budget takes a hit. But on the census date, September 10, we had comfortably surpassed last year’s number of 1,523, and while this is certainly good news for college and community alike, Executive Director Dr.Kate O’Neill sought to put it into the context of the current economic situation.
“We have to remember that our state allocations this year have already been cut by 3.2 percent, and that reduction has to be applied across the board to every department at UNM-Taos,” she said, “so you will see some classes that are much larger than they were in the past. We are adding additional sections wherever we can, but we literally don’t have the money for more instructors in every situation where we would like to add them.
“On the other hand, I think the consolidation of office and classroom space on the Klauer campus is helping us face these budget cuts because we no longer have to lease space at many locations around town. We are looking for ways to cut costs in terms of overhead, travel budgets and any extras we can tighten our belts on. Our primary mission to offer instruction to students remains unchanged, however.”
I asked O’Neill if budget cuts might include layoffs in the near future.
“I think the state is doing its best in the current economic conditions, and we are looking at a number of federal grants and some economic stimulus money coming in. In the long term we might have to consider more tuition increases and dealing with fewer faculty and staff to keep our budget balanced. Main campus has implemented a ‘hiring pause’ for some time now. But so far have been able to continue to hire, for the most part because of grant funds.
“Folks may be puzzled by the apparent contradiction between budget cuts and campus growth. The build out of the Klauer campus is fueled by specific state, federal and foundation dollars and these funds can only be used for constructing and outfitting buildings. You might wonder why we can’t hire someone to teach an additional section of English 101 but we are putting down new carpeting, for example. The answer is simply that we can’t commingle those funds. You can only use building resources for constructing, equipping and furnishing your facilities.
“On November 2 the people of New Mexico will vote on one such resource, General Obligation Bonds B and D, which will secure funds for books for our public libraries and provide two million dollars to begin construction on our Library Learning Center, along with other educational projects throughout the state. That facility will house academic programs including the library, the Water Institute and the Southwest Research Center. If voters support this initiative as they have in the past, it will allow us to complete the first phase of our campus build out.
“We are very grateful for the continuing support of the state and federal legislatures as well as city and county governments. Senator Udall was on campus a few weeks ago and over the summer we hosted Lieutenant Governor Diane Denish, the Legislative Finance Committee including Senator Carlos Cisneros and Representative Bobby Gonzales, and toured the solar array with members of the Municipal League. With help from these sources I am confident that we will be able to continue to provide the job skills and educational opportunities that are needed here in Northern New Mexico.”