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New Mexico to focus on college affordability, financial aid

December 27, 2018
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New Mexico Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham announces more cabinet appointments during a news conference in Albuquerque, N.M., on Wednesday, Dec. 26, 2018. She will take office Jan. 1. (AP Photo/Susan Montoya Bryan)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The former leader of the Taos campus for the University of New Mexico was named Wednesday by Democratic Gov.-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham to lead the state’s higher education department when she takes office next week.

Kate O’Neill will oversee the state’s network of community colleges and public universities. She will be inheriting the agency at a time when many schools around the state are grappling with funding cuts and enrollment declines.

O’Neill most recently served as CEO of the University of New Mexico at Taos, a position she held for years. She started at the campus as an adjunct faculty member in 1994 and worked her way up. During her leadership tenure, she developed a nationally accredited nursing program and increased the campus’ budget.

O’Neill and Lujan Grisham said affordability for students will be among the priorities for the new administration. They discussed the importance of the state’s lottery-funded scholarship program while acknowledging that it’s not currently sustainable because revenue from ticket sales has declined and tuition costs have increased.

O’Neill called the scholarships essential, noting that many students depend on the financial aid and that the program needs to be maintained.

Some things will have to be done differently to make higher education more affordable, Lujan Grisham said, indicating that an all-of-the-above approach is needed. It possibly could be a combination of new revenue sources or eligibility changes. “I’m hoping that with some of the economic ideas that we put before the Legislature and their own ideas that we’re going to have a variety of options to sustain a scholarship formula and system that’s meaningful to New Mexicans,” the incoming governor said.

Lujan Grisham also announced appointments for the departments of transportation, cultural affairs and information technology.

Still pending are decisions on other key agencies that oversee public safety, public education, health and the environment.

Debra Garcia y Griego, the director of the city of Santa Fe Arts Commission, was named as the cultural affairs secretary. During her time working in Santa Fe, she developed the nation’s first municipal ordinance addressing the forgery of Native American arts and crafts and led the development of the city’s first cultural plan.

Michael Sandoval was appointed as transportation secretary. He has worked for the agency for more than 20 years, most recently overseeing hundreds of contracts, the state’s 12 ports of entry and programs including the Rail Runner Express commuter train.

A former state lawmaker, Vincent Martinez was named head of the state’s information technology department. He’s currently the managing director of cloud and communications at the department. Martinez has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

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