New Mexico’s small population stretches over a big state, so we have taken higher education to the students, with 32 colleges and universities. Nearly every sizable community has a branch or an independent institution.
For our students, who tend to be older and need to hold a job while they take classes, this is a good thing.
But one of the bigger arguments in the recent legislative special session was how much to cut higher education. The institutions skated with relatively small cuts, but probably not for long. We’re not out of the hole, and come January, lawmakers will put everything back on the table.
Recently, Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron announced that the state’s system is unsustainable. Each institution has its own board, and they’re more dependent on state funding than experts say is healthy. New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs is lowest, at 20 percent, while Mesalands Community College in Tucumcari is highest, at 61 percent. The three biggest institutions get 35 to 40 percent of their funding from the state.
As state revenues have tanked, so have enrollments, which had risen during the early part of the recession. Also, our population is shrinking as people leave the state. Graduation rates are poor (35 percent, compared with 40 percent nationally).