County could rescue UNM-LA

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The branch college is facing a $160,000 shortfall

By Carol A. Clark

Conversation briefly stopped when County Councilor Mike Wismer walked into Monday night’s special meeting between UNM-Los Alamos Advisory Board members and college administrators.


A 12-percent tuition increase, an online course fee hike and a proposed operating budget that will dip into college reserves were on the table.

“I just have two questions,” Wismer informed the board after listening to the issues. “Will you be coming to the county for a request of funds for FY 2011-2012 and are you contemplating a mil levy?”

UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page told Wismer that he has met with the county administrator and discussed a policy that the county might adopt to support education in the community.

“We have considered an education policy for K-16 and approved it,” Wismer said of the county council.

It would be so much better to preserve the college fund balance (reserve) and use the real time dollars that would be available from the county, Page said.

Acting County Administrator Randy Autio said this morning that the county met with the branch college sometime last year but have not yet met this year.

“We will be happy to discuss and look for ways that we can assist our school partners within the community but there have not been any specific negotiations entered into at this point since last fiscal year with UNM-LA,” Autio said.

The college’s operating budget is $5.2 million.  

Advisory Board Chair Nelson Hoffman said the college has been building up its fund balance in anticipation of difficult financial times.     

Because of declined enrollment coupled with increased operating costs, the college had to take $86,000 from its fund balance this year to make ends meet. Campus Resources Director Lisa Clough presented a budget overview Monday night and informed the board that it’s going to take $160,000 from the fund to balance next year’s budget.

New board member Linda Hull asked how much money was in the fund balance.

“There is an estimated $664,000, however much of that is committed to specific activities such as financial aid,” Clough said.

Page will pursue funding from the county in an effort to leave the fund balance intact.

Hoffman told Wismer that there is a window of opportunity in which the college could hold a mil levy election in February. Los Alamos Public Schools will not hold an election next year, he said, but will hold one in 2013. He asked that the mil levy issue be placed on the May meeting agenda, adding that a decision will have to be made at that meeting because the board adjourns for the summer.  

The board unanimously approved the proposed FY 2012 budget, which must be submitted to the Board of Regents in time for its review before meeting the May 1 submittal deadline to the state.

The board also unanimously approved a 12 percent tuition increase for FY 2012. The state has reduced the amount of appropriations to UNM-LA as a result of a 9.5 percent tuition credit. To make up for the reduced state appropriations, the college must raise its tuition and fees, Clough said.

As online instruction grows and the demand for online delivery of courses in all disciplines increases, so do the associated costs, she said. Clough explained that UNM-LA online course fees have historically been “very inconsistent.” The college charges $10 for Intermediate Algebra, $40 for Introduction to Microcomputers on PC, $20 for Composition 1: Exposition, $30 for Windows Client Operating Systems and no charge at all for Human Anatomy & Physiology.

The main campus in Albuquerque charges the same per credit tuition for online courses offered through its extended college as it does for face-to-face courses, but does assess a $100 delivery fee for each three-credit hour online course, Clough said.

Dean of Students Kate Massengale worked with Clough to determine a local delivery fee of $25 for 1-2 credit hours per course and $50 for a 3-4 credit hour online course, which she said would be competitive and still cover costs.

“If it were up to me, I’d charge $100 like the main campus … standardize it … simplify it …,” said new board member Stephen Boerigter.

Chair Nelson Hoffman has served on the board for many years and did not agree.

“We are not about maximizing income – we’re more about maximizing the number of students we have enrolled here,” Nelson said.  

Board member Ron Dolin said UNM-LA has the highest quality instructors in the state and that keeping fees lower than the main campus could be a marketing opportunity for the college.

UNM-LA suffered a severe blow in terms of enrollment in the semester following Los Alamos National Laboratory’s decision to stop tuition reimbursement for its employees in 2007.

“We’re just recovering from a decline in our enrollment of about one-third and I’m nervous about raising fees by too much,” Clough said.

Board member Micheline Devaurs brought the discussion to an end saying that the objective of the college is to maximize its number of students and not to maximize income.

“We just approved a 12 percent tuition hike and I’m not comfortable, without having data to analyze, with increasing online fees to $100,” she said.

Massengale said the majority of online students “would probably not complain at all” about the $25 and $50 increase because they want the convenience of online courses.

“What I’m asking here is that we consistently apply a standardized fee schedule to our online classes,” Clough said.  

The board unanimously approved the $25 and $50 increase in online course fees.

The advisory board’s next meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. May 9 and is open to the public.