College tuition: giving credit where credit is due.

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I’ve blogged on this subject before, but Beverlee McClure brings it up again today in the latest update from the Secretary of Higher Education (looks like the April update isn’t online yet):

Lots of attention is being focused on the increases in tuition we are seeing across the state. While New Mexico’s average tuition continues to be among the lowest in the nation, we need to take a hard look at what we can do to keep increases at a minimum. The more tuition increases, the greater the impact on the Lottery Success Scholarship, and the greater potential debt our students have when they graduate.

Currently, we have a group comprised of our Formula Enhancement Task Force members who are crafting policy recommendations regarding the Tuition Credit. The Credit, a long-standing practice in our state, deducts a percentage of an institution’s appropriation based on tuition rates. The result is that institutions find themselves in the position of having to raise tuition to “break even” by the same percentage as the credit, and even higher in order to raise additional funds to cover inflationary costs not funded in our formula. It is a practice that we must reconsider and carefully craft policy to protect our students.

The credit needs to go, and it needs to go pronto. In an era when the state is pulling in buku bucks (according to Gov. Bill Richardson, $385 million in new money last year) from oil and gas revenues, the Legislature is making students pay for programs not related to education.

This is what it comes down to: health-care coverage is going up (just like it is everywhere else, but that’s another post). There’s increasing pressure to increase salaries for faculty and staff. Basically, costs are increasing at colleges and universities.

But, the Legislature wants to fund some new program. So, based on tuition rates, they take money that the universities are already receiving, and use that money to fund the program. To make up for their loss in funding, the schools have to raise tuition.

Access to a higher education is tricky enough as it is. Raising tuition makes it more difficult. I’m glad Gov. Richardson was able to get $50 million to begin a fund for need-based assistance. But the Lottery Scholarship is affected by the tuition credit on a huge scale: the majority of students who use the Scholarship attend NMSU and UNM, which have the highest tuition rates. As tuition increases, and more students take advantage of the Scholarship, the lottery fund diminishes in size.

The tuition credit only affects one group of New Mexicans: college students. Most are struggling to make ends meet, and many will have a hard time staying in school with university-derived tuition increases. On top of that, the Legislature is handing down an increase as well?

I’m a huge fan of college: I think a liberal arts education is the best thing that could happen to a young adult. If that doesn’t float your boat, however, why not head to a science and engineering school, or try to nail a high-paying job with your degree from a technical-vocational school?

I’ve seen first hand what education can do. My mother has a bachelor’s degree from WNMU, and my father a master’s from the same institution. She now holds a high-level position with the Transportation Security Administration, and my pops is a Level 3 middle-school teacher in Deming.

My sister graduated with a journalism degree from Northwestern University, in Evanston, Ill. She’s in Washington, D.C., working a PR gig for the National Wildlife Federation.

In short, higher education is the path to better jobs in this country. That’s a simple fact: even older Americans are realizing it.

So, why does the Legislature, year after year, make it harder for students to pay for college?

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