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Associate Vice President at the Office of Planning Budget Analysis, Andrew Cullen, speaks to the Board of Regents Tuesday afternoon.  The Board decided on a tuition increase of 2.5% as the meeting ajourned shortly after.
Associate Vice President at the Office of Planning Budget Analysis, Andrew Cullen, speaks to the Board of Regents Tuesday afternoon. The Board decided on a tuition increase of 2.5% as the meeting ajourned shortly after.

Tuition increased as UNM faces more budget cuts

From March 23

Undergraduates will be paying a bit more to attend school in the fall, albeit not as much as they could have been paying.

At the annual Budget Summit on Tuesday, the UNM Board of Regents voted unanimously to increase tuition by 2.5 percent, to about $5,286 for the 2016-2017 school year.

Students will also pay about $157 more in fees next year, an increase of about 10.5 percent, stemming from the approval of renovations to Johnson Center, Anderson School of Management and Smith Plaza.

The tuition raise, which various board members called a tough decision, is a result of increased budget shortfalls for the University.

University President Bob Frank said in his legislative report that UNM faces a projected deficit of $7.6 million for the coming year. Several numbers figure into that result, including cuts from the state and a drop in enrollment.

“We are out of easy solutions,” Frank said, adding that this is the fourth round of budget reductions in the last three years.

New Mexico is increasingly at odds with its reliance on falling oil and gas revenues, which has led to budget deficits from across the state, including UNM. The University as a whole is facing $7.9 million in reductions from the state, and about $5.1 million for main campus alone.

Frank said it is up to the University to find ways to compensate in tough economic times for the state, which could last for a couple more years, he said.

“This is our new normal,” Frank said. “We need to find a way as a University to deal with this volatility.”

Taking advantage of a tuition increase alone would require a seven percent hike in tuition, something Frank said UNM administration would not be willing to propose. Instead, he said a responsible proposal would be to balance between a tuition hike and budget cuts.

That proposal actually included a three percent tuition hike at first, which made several Regents, as well as student government leaders, very wary. This would mean students taking 15-18 credit hours would be paying about $5,312 a year.

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Over 4,000 graduate students at UNM will also pay higher tuition, to the tune of about $25 over the course of the year. That represents an almost four percent jump over 2015-2016, including fees.

ASUNM President Jenna Hagengruber said, despite UNM’s relative affordability compared to other institutions of similar size, she feels hesitant to tighten students’ wallets.

However, she said, based off the possibility of diminishing the quality of education UNM offers, as well as the uniquely challenging atmosphere the University finds itself in, she supports a tuition increase.

That is, with an asterisk.

“I would prefer – actually, I would mandate – that if undergraduates were to support this, it would be below three percent,” she said. “If we are potentially losing services to students, and staff who are supporting students and faculty who are teaching students because we don’t have the money, then we would rather pay an increase in tuition.”

In a joint statement drafted before the Summit between Hagengruber and Graduate and Professional Student Association President Texanna Martin, the student government leaders said that as long as new avenues of raising revenue are being explored, they stand by a tuition increase under three percent “if it is truly in the best interest of the student body.”

Regent Marron Lee echoed a similar sentiment, saying that while she believes there are more efficiencies to be found to ease the University budget, the tuition increase is necessary to maintain quality.

“I’m not comfortable with a three percent tuition increase, I’m not comfortable with any tuition increase,” Lee said. “But I understand...we’re in some very difficult times as an institution.”

Regent President Rob Doughty said, based off his own research, tuition has gone up 150 percent at UNM, but that the belt could not be any tighter in terms of necessary cuts made to stay afloat in the stormy waters of the statewide economy.

He said because of these outstanding circumstances, he would support a slightly lower tuition increase of 2.5 percent. Lee later made a motion to approve the change, which was unanimously passed, along with the 10 percent increase in fees.

The combined amount of tuition and student fees for undergraduate students taking 15 to 18 credit hours next year is almost $7,000, compared to about $6,664 from the 2015-2016 school year.

David Lynch is the managing editor at the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at managingeditor@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.

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