New Mexico takes a big leap toward modernizing higher ed

April 14, 2019

Bold state leadership is changing the trajectory for students in New Mexico. The overall fiscal year 2020 budget for New Mexico’s higher education institutions is $822 million, a 3 percent increase over last year. This translates into more responsive programming in education, health care and the trades; science, technology, engineering and math; arts and film. Our state’s higher education institutions stand ready to close the gap between people who want jobs and openings in exciting, high-demand career fields.

The New Mexico Legislature passed and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law $112.5 million in new funding that meets critical higher education infrastructure needs. The Santa Fe Community College can build a health science simulation laboratory; New Mexico Highlands University can expand science facilities; New Mexico State University can launch a new agricultural center; and Navajo Technical University can build a trades program facility. These projects are economic drivers, providing construction jobs for New Mexico companies and workers while improving the readiness of our higher education facilities for students.

The new budget provides $62 million in student financial aid, including a $20 million investment in the College Affordability Fund for disbursement to students over the next few years and an additional $20 million specifically for the education of teachers. We expect to train many additional teachers statewide over the next few years, which is critical to supporting the work of the new Department of Early Childhood Education and Care and improvements to elementary and secondary education.

The Legislature and the governor responded to nearly a decade of dramatic and deep cuts to New Mexico’s higher education system by increasing the basic operating funds that all colleges rely upon by $28 million. They gave a raise of a few percentage points — $24 million — to faculty and staff whose paychecks have seen consistent chipping-away for many years. Finally, the Legislature and the governor invested $3.67 million in one-time funds to support local higher education-related projects.

Under Lujan Grisham and the Legislature’s collective leadership, institutions of higher education can boost their workforce training initiatives. They are rolling out programs to prepare people to perform high-need jobs such as emergency medical technicians and Ph.D.s in physics. They are developing public-private partnerships to boost research and economic development. The governor is launching four new centers of excellence at University of New Mexico, NMSU, San Juan College and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology that will lay pathways for talented young adults to join exciting, high-growth industries like bioscience, value-added agriculture, sustainable energy and cybersecurity.

Legislation this session expanded eligibility for lottery scholarships to tribal college students and allowed seniors to take up to 10 credits per semester at a reduced rate of $5 per credit hour.

The bold and indeed courageous decisions of our governor and Legislature position the higher education community to better prepare students for productive, fulfilling careers. As secretary, I want to express my thanks for the leadership that will modernize higher education in New Mexico and dramatically improve student outcomes. Our state deserves no less.

Kate O’Neill, Ed.D., is secretary of the Higher Education Department. She was formerly the executive director of UNM-Taos.​