The New Mexico Higher Education Department has identified budget priorities for the 2023 fiscal year which include expanding access to free college for all New Mexicans, training more nurses, supporting teachers, enhancing dual credit programs, and investing in adult education and literacy, among others.
“Our agency has met with students, faculty, and leaders across the state over the past several months to learn about the emerging needs facing students and our communities, and we have worked together to propose solutions,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “In addition to expanding free college programs and other support services for students, we are working to address urgent workforce needs in healthcare and education, and address community needs in the areas of early childhood education and behavioral health.”
Expanding access to higher education is a top priority as the state seeks to improve its economy and family earnings. In the United States today, nearly 60 percent of jobs require education beyond high school, and median earnings for associate and bachelor’s degree holders working full time are up to 24 percent and 61 percent higher, respectively, than for those with only a high school diploma and unemployment rates are also lower.
Therefore, the agency is requesting funding as part of a comprehensive package to sustain and expand free college in New Mexico, which includes $48 million for the Opportunity Scholarship, which would impact 25,000 to 35,000 students. The Opportunity Scholarship, which provides an option for tuition-free college to returning adult learners and part-time students received $18 million in state funds in FY22. An additional $25 million is also proposed for the Lottery Scholarship to ensure the program continues to cover full tuition for eligible students.
An additional $10 million internal fund transfer is proposed for the state’s Teacher Loan Repayment and Teacher Preparation Affordability Scholarship programs, which aim to grow the teacher pipeline and support current teachers. The Teacher Loan Repayment Program received a record number of applications with nearly 500 awards this year alone, and the program has been a lifeline for veteran teachers who acquired debt prior to the availability of the Lottery Scholarship and other state scholarships now available for aspiring educators.
The agency is also requesting $15 million for the Nursing Program Development Enhancement Fund to build capacity within the state to train and place qualified nurses to address persistent nurse shortages.
Another $10 million is requested to support dual credit programs, which fulfill high school graduation requirements and allow students to earn both college and high school credits at the same time. Last year, over 16,500 students participated in the program, which is available free-of-cost to participants.
To address critical student needs, the agency is proposing $10 million to expand student services and support at college and university campuses statewide, and $1 million to fund projects addressing food insecurity among college students.
An additional $9 million is proposed for the state’s adult education programs, a $2.5 million increase for the programs that serve over 10,000 New Mexicans across the state each year with instruction, high school equivalency (formerly known as GED), and transition programs into higher education, career training, and the workforce. Adult literacy programs funded by the Department would receive $750,000, an increase of nearly ten percent from the prior year.
A total of $6.5 million is being requested to continue development and implementation of the state’s longitudinal data system, which incorporates databases from the New Mexico Early Childhood Education, Public Education, Higher Education, and Workforce Solutions Departments. The project aims to identify trends and present data-driven recommendations to support the success of New Mexicans from cradle to career.
Other requests include $5 million for the state’s Higher Education Endowment Fund, a fund to enhance research or establish endowed chairs at public colleges and universities, and $160 million for new and existing research and public services projects benefiting students and communities across New Mexico, a $17 million increase from FY22. The agency also recommends that Centers of Excellence receive $500,000 each to advance their missions and economic development within their growing sectors, and the addition of two Centers. The Centers include:
- The Center of Excellence for Cybersecurity at the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology
- The Center of Excellence for Sustainable Agriculture at New Mexico State University
- The Center of Excellence for Bioscience at the University of New Mexico
- The Center of Excellence for Renewable Energy at San Juan College
- A new Center of Excellence for Early Childhood Education and Care at Western New Mexico University
- A new Center of Excellence for Social Work and Mental and Behavioral Health at New Mexico Highlands University
The agency oversees operational budgets for all public colleges, universities and special schools. Budget recommendations for public higher education institutions are calculated in part by a formula that considers metrics including student degree completion, enrollment and credit hours completed. The agency recently convened a working group to evaluate the current higher education funding formula, which was established in 2016.
Additionally, the agency evaluates and recommends capital outlay projects for facility repairs and improvements submitted by higher education institutions statewide. The New Mexico Higher Education Department recommended $214.3 million to fund facilities and infrastructure improvement projects at 28 college and university campuses across the state, and an additional $5.7 million to fund the demolition of campus facilities that are no longer in use and present safety concerns. Another $34.8 million would go toward building renewal and replacement to address deferred maintenance needs of public higher education institutions.
Despite the scope of programs overseen by the agency, the New Mexico Higher Education Department is one of the smallest state agencies, with nine public-facing divisions and 51 full-time staff.