It came as a surprise to many as the Secretary of Higher Education, Jose Garcia, stopped for an impromptu visit in Northern New Mexico College's Board of Regents meeting on December 19th. The Board had been asking Garcia to visit them for months, but it had not happened according to Regent Alfred Herrera, a regent since January 2009.
"This is the first time since I've been on the Board that the secretary has stopped by," Herrera said.
Garcia's questions were direct as he probed where Northern New Mexico College stood in terms of higher education. According to Lindsey Bright of Rio Grande Sun, for improvement of the proportion of the population with a college degree, Garcia said the state has ranked last, 50 out of 50, from 1990 to 2010. In addition, he said while the state ranks first in spending on higher education, it ranks last in higher education. In comparison to a national average of 6.8%, the state spends 15.3% of their budget each year on higher education. It's for this reason he said the state had to turn to a performance-based funding formula. 2010 was the year this happened. The new funding formula awards money to state institutions based on three main criteria: the number of degrees awarded, the number of science, technology, engineering and mechanical degrees and lastly, how many at-risk students are awarded degrees.
"I think, given a little effort, you (Northern) could be very competitive in relationship to the funding formula," Garcia said.
Northern awarded 19 one- or two-year certificates, 96 associate degrees and 68 bachelor's degrees in 2012. Out of the $583 million higher education department, the state allocated $10.7 million for the 2014 fiscal year.
"This funding formula is necessary to tell the colleges, âYou need to get in there and perform,'" Garcia said.
Garcia's remarks were not agreed to by all regents.
"Will we be compared to colleges with the same abilities as us (Northern), as opposed to UNM (University of New Mexico)?" Regent Cecille Martinez-Wechsler asked.
In response, Garcia said the comparison was the same across the board and the funding formula would be applied to every college and university in the state.
Martinez-Wechsler was not satisfied by Garcia's response.
"It doesn't seem fair when we don't have the abilities to provide doctorates, or the budget, that we be compared to UNM. It would seem like it's more reasonable if we were compared to other institutions that are like us," he said.
Garcia, who did not budge on the value of the new system said that institutions needed to compete against each other in a reply to Martinez-Wechsler. Additionally, he said that when an institution succeeds in graduating developmental students, it would be rewarded. He also said that the funding formula is necessary for the state to turn around the tide of falling higher education. He concluded by saying that without this aggressive formula in place, the state's higher education system would become a disaster.