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Regents OK oil and gas degrees

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By Martin Salazar

New Mexico Highlands University regents approved a proposal last week to begin offering business degrees with a focus on oil and gas management.

The university’s School of Business, Media and Technology proposed the new degrees, a master of business administration and bachelor of business administration in oil and gas management.

“The oil and gas industry is a significant part of New Mexico’s economy,” Highlands President Jim Fries told regents during Friday’s board meeting. He said that based on the university’s research, there don’t appear to be management bachelor and master degree programs with a focus on oil and gas at other state institutions nor in the surrounding states.

San Juan College does have a two-year program, and Fries said Highlands expects to draw students from that program as well as people already working in the oil and gas industry.
The president said the plan is to offer the majority of the program online, and he said the university expects to draw students from outside New Mexico.

Because the university already offers master and bachelor degrees in business administration and is just adding a concentration on oil and gas management, approval isn’t needed from the state Higher Education Department, Fries said.

He also told regents that none of the university’s current faculty have particular expertise in the oil and gas industry, so Highlands will likely hire adjunct faculty to cover the additional classes that will be needed. San Juan College has done the same thing, although it is having to pay those individuals three or four times what regular adjunct faculty pay, Fries said.

Regent Nancy Long praised the proposal to add the new degree programs, and all regents present at Friday’s meeting voted to approve it.

Fries told the board that San Juan College had approached Highlands, UNM and perhaps others about adding the degree programs. He said Highlands is the “first horse out of the gate” on the program, and he said he doesn’t think it’ll take long for word to spread among those in the oil and gas industry.

The president said the new degree programs bring attractive fundraising potential and prospects for growing the university’s enrollment. And he called oil and gas a major industry in New Mexico.

“All institutions should try to generate academic programming that supports our major industries,” he said.

In other business, regents:
• Approved the university’s 2012 audit. Regent Jesus Lopez said auditors gave the university an unqualified opinion, the best opinion they give.
• Settled on “Viles & Crimmin Residence Hall” as the wording to be used on signs for the recently renamed residence hall. The building is being named after scholarship benefactors Matie Viles and Ken and Sue Crimmin.
• Voted to authorize staff to dispose of about 600 surplus library books.
• Gave staff the authority to negotiate a licensing agreement for a hydrazine remediation process developed by Highlands researchers.
• Approved the issuance of a request for proposal for an architectural and engineering firm to develop plans for the Trolley Building, at 12th and San Francisco Street. Highlands already has $6 million in general obligation bonds for the project, and it is hoping for an additional $2.3 million from the Legislature for the project. The university is still trying to get a firm handle on how much the project will cost.
• Heard a report from Fries that the latest estimate for completion of the student center is mid-March. Lopez said that compared to the previous delays on the project under the previous contractor, he’s not too concerned about these minor delays.
At the December meeting Lopez voiced concerns about the exterior rust finish on the building, but last week he said he is becoming less critical of it. He said that as additional coats are applied over the rust, the finish is looking good.