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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

New Mexico Legislature bills tackle the future of UNM Gallup, a possible expansion of Lottery Scholarship student eligibility, and faculty and staff retirement funds

news@dailylobo.com

This week, representatives of the New Mexico Legislature proposed major changes for UNM as well as for higher education in the state in general, and began debate over what to do about dwindling retirement funds for UNM faculty and staff.

The UNM Gallup campus may separate from UNM if House Bill 71 is passed. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Patty Lundstrom (D-Gallup), calls for a re-evaluation of the UNM Gallup campus’ status following a feasibility study to be conducted by the state Higher Education Department and a forthcoming decision by the UNM Gallup advisory board. The bill does not elaborate on how the campus would be evaluated.

According to the bill, if the department releases a successful evaluation, and if the advisory board agrees with the department’s findings, UNM Gallup would have the chance to either become an “independent community college” or to “choose another parent institution with which to affiliate.” The bill does not say what will happen if the department releases an unsuccessful evaluation.

Rep. Eliseo Lee Alcon (D-Milan) introduced House Bill 28, which involves UNM indirectly. According to AP reports, the bill proposes to make students attending tribal colleges throughout the state eligible for the Lottery Scholarship in addition to students attending state schools.

The bill would give such tribal college students greater access to higher education, but would also place a heavier burden on the already financially strained Lottery Scholarship. According to the Department of Higher Education’s website, the scholarship provides tuition for students attending the state’s 15 different state universities and colleges spread out over 25 different sites, including all of UNM’s campuses. The scholarship is projected to run out of funding in July.

Neither bill has yet been acted upon nor is either scheduled to be acted upon, according to the UNM 2013 Legislative Bill Tracker, found on govrel.unm.edu.

Proposals to assure that the Educational Retirement Board’s defined-benefit fund remains solvent are to be the topic of a special joint session of the House and Senate along with ERB director Jan Goodwin. The fund is classified as a 401(a) retirement plan and provides a lifetime income source for UNM faculty and staff and their selected beneficiaries. It is 63 percent solvent, according to the UNM Human Resources website.

The session is scheduled for 10 a.m today, according to an email from Susan McKinsey of the UNM Office of Government and Community Relations. On Friday, there will be a joint session of the House Education and Senate Education Committees at 8 a.m. to continue this discussion.