UNM-LA states case to council

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Higher education > Advocates win support for two-mil levy

By Arin McKenna

After the defeat of its last attempt in 2010, the University of New Mexico–Los Alamos and its advocates are making a concerted effort to solidify public support for a 2-mil bond levy that comes before voters in September.


UNM-LA’s current 1-mil levy (initiated 33 years ago) is the second lowest of all 17 two-year institutions in the state. UNM-Gallop has the highest combined operational and debt service mil levy at 5.33.

UNM-LA Executive Director Cedric Page, the UNM-LA Advisory Board and the Los Alamos Committee for Higher Education (LACHE) have been on the stump to groups throughout Los Alamos.

Page and advisory board Chair Stephen Boerigter addressed the Los Alamos County Council last week, winning a 5–0 vote in favor of a resolution supporting the effort. The two absent councilors, David Izraelevitz and Rick Reiss, have publicly supported the tax hike.

Boerigter made the pitch to council, stressing how the university is meeting its mission to provide two-year degrees that transfer to bachelor programs, two-year workforce-focused degrees, workforce certificate programs, and lifelong learning opportunities for personal enrichment or career change.

“We have great opportunities and results at UNM-LA,” Boerigter said.

UNM-LA’s assets are centered on community need. They include:
• New programs focused on Science, Technology, Engineering, Health Science and Math.
• A Pre-Professional Health Science program.
• An Applied Technologies program created in partnership with LANS that includes electro-mechanical, nano, manufacturing, and solar technology.
• A Fire Science program started in 2012 which has graduated its first 12 students.
• Programs in Emergency Medical Services, Robotics, and IT with Cyber Security are being initiated this fall.
• Tech Frontiers — a pilot program in partnership with LANL–introduces high school students to career possibilities in areas such as material science, computer science, robotics and alternative energy and encourages juniors and seniors take follow-up dual credit courses at UNM-LA then apply for high school student internships at LANL.
• UNM-LA and LAHS are partnering to create STEM Academy, which will pilot in fall 2014.
• About 200 students at LAPS take dual credit courses with UNM-LA each year.
• UNM-LA brought back the 25-year-old Children’s College in 2012

The university’s commitment to community priorities is showing results, according to Boerigter.
UNM-LA surpasses any other UNM branches in graduation rates within 150 percent of intended degree-time (three years). The branch average is 17 percent. UNM-LA’s rate is 62 percent. UNM-Taos has the second highest rate, at 22 percent.

The university has awarded 171 associate degrees in the last 5 years, and 93 percent of its graduates are placed in jobs or continuing education; an average of 115 students transfer to four-year colleges every year.

The student population is approximately 2,500, with approximately 900 to 1,000 students taking traditional on-campus and online credit classes, including dual credit classes. Ninety-one percent of the campus’ programs have stable or increasing enrollment.

Despite these successes, UNM-LA faces the reality of making cutbacks if it does not find a stable source of revenue.

“The present level of funding is completely inadequate to support the campus as we know it and as we want it to be,” Boerigter said.

A variety of factors have contributed to the university’s financial straits.

Despite a 14 percent increase in student enrollment since 2008, state funding has decreased 38 percent during the same period.

Dual credit, which allows high school students to take a course at UNM-LA for both high school and college credit with no tuition cost to the student, is an unfunded mandate from the state.

The cost of American Disabilities Act Services for physical and learning disabilities have been climbing.

Seventy to seventy-five percent of all incoming freshmen are in need of remedial math or English, something else the state does not provide funding for.

Many of the newer programs are funded with $3 million in grants, as are 4.5 of the college’s 12.75 full-time faculty members. Most of those grants end in three to five years and are not renewable.

The lag in state funding is also challenging, especially since new programs are not funded through their start-up periods.

“Even if next fall we have the largest number of students in our history, which we are hoping for, there would be a two year lag in the state funding formula,” Boerigter told councilors.

The issues are spelled out in detail on LACHE’s website (ourcommunityourcollege.com), including the consequences if the tax measure fails. LACHE calls the outlook “bleak.”
• Faculty, which has already been reduced 21 percent, will have to be reduced even further.
• Both existing programs and those due to be initiated would be eliminated. STEMH (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math and Health) programs are especially at risk. The cost to deliver STEMH programs is high due to equipment, instructional materials, changing technology and highly skilled technical faculty.
• Grant funded programs such as engineering, robotics; fire science and EMT are also at risk as grant funding ends.

The proposed 2-mil levy would be assessed on the taxable value of property, which is one-third the assessed property value. A $300,000 home with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay $66.67 more in taxes each year.

The tax would generate $1.4 to $1.5 million a year beginning in 2015. That would allow the university to hire more faculty and invest $772,900 a year in students preparing for transfer, $662,900 in students in workforce training and career based programs and $69,000 in lifelong learners and personal enrichment.

“UNM-LA is an important asset to our community, and we need to support it if we want it to continue doing the good thing it does,” Councilor Pete Sheehey said.

“We have low property taxes here and that’s a good thing. But even if this 2-mil increase passes we will still have some of the lowest property taxes in the state and in the nation, particularly for a town with the level of services that we enjoy.

“I’m very focused in doing our county business in a way that is the most efficient possible so that we will not have any need to increase the county portion of property taxes, but I am happy to pay my share of taxes to support UNM-LA, and I ask the citizens of Los Alamos to join me.”

The vote is a special all-mail election. Ballots will be mailed to registered voters Aug. 27 and must be physically returned by 7 p.m. Sept. 17.