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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

UNM must reassess goals for the welfare of students

Editor,

On March 28, the UNM Board of Regents approved an increase of the tuition differential for graduate students in the School of Architecture and Planning by 50 percent, effective summer 2014. For those who do not know, the tuition differential is a special surcharge per credit hour imposed by the administration of the School of Architecture and Planning over and above the regular tuition and fees each student must pay.

It’s easy for the administration to balance the budget on the backs of graduate students. However, it is harder, but more fiscally responsible, to balance the budget by additional fundraising, asking for alumni donations or controlling costs. According to the school, this special assessment is needed in order for the school to remain competitive. Why aren’t we told about this before we register? Why is this hidden cost sprung onto students after the fact? Balancing the budget on the backs of students is not fiscally responsible and it goes against the idea of affordable access to education for New Mexicans.

UNM is comprised of several schools and colleges that are now submitting requests for these “tuition differentials” as a way to compensate for a lack of funding from the University. As a letter dated March 12, 2014 and submitted to the UNM Board of Regents from the School of Architecture and Planning states, “The School proposes a tuition differential of $74.63 per credit hour, a 50% increase, effective Summer 2014.” Let’s take a minute to look at what is going on in our state regarding economics and education.

According to research conducted by New Mexico Voices for Children, New Mexico ranks 49th in the U.S. for child poverty. More than one-quarter of New Mexico’s children live in poverty and over half (60 percent) of our children come from low-income families. New Mexico has the third lowest high school graduation rates in the country and our numbers do not improve as we move onto higher education. In a new state-by-state comparison of graduation rates at four-year public colleges, the National Student Clearinghouse Research Institute places New Mexico near the bottom of the list. These socioeconomic conditions have a direct impact on access to education and UNM is only making it more difficult for New Mexican students and their families by imposing this tuition differential.

New Mexico is in the midst of an educational crisis and only through transparency, accountability and community input can we face this crisis. UNM must cease any increase in tuition, tuition differentials, and student fees until UNM’s new tuition structure is evaluated and reorganized with student input. UNM should reimburse graduate students, who were the collateral damage of UNM’s new tuition structure, and UNM must hold themselves to a standard of performance that requires rigorous and critical research and evaluation. UNM must be fiscally responsible and transparent, and our local, state and federal elected representatives need to hold UNM accountable.

UNM and the community need to reevaluate priorities. The education of New Mexicans should be the number one priority of the University of New Mexico until we can reconcile some of the problems that we are facing in regards to educating our own communities. Now is not the time to open up recruitment offices overseas. Instead, we must commit to all New Mexican students, new and traditional, by investing in New Mexico and opening up advisement and recruitment offices in middle and high schools throughout New Mexico and look for solutions like this one by listening to the community. UNM must focus on providing the necessary support and quality education to its constituency: the students and community. Let’s reclaim our educational system to ensure that it is accessible, affordable and a benefit to all New Mexicans.

We strongly urge our fellow New Mexicans to email and call the University of New Mexico Board of Regents at (505) 277-7639
or regents@unm.edu, UNM President Bob Frank at (505) 277-2626 or unmpres@unm.edu, UNM Provost Dr. Chaouki Abdallah at (505) 277-2611 or provost@unm.edu, New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez at (505) 476-2200, state legislative representatives, the City of Albuquerque Councilors and Bernalillo County Commissioners regarding questions and concerns on the actions of the University of New Mexico.

Concerned New Mexicans,
Bianca Encinias and Elisita Pintor
UNM School of Architecture and Planning graduate students