University plans spending reductions

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By Don Pace

Highlands University officials say they are looking at a number of ways to cut expenses, including starting an early retirement plan.

President Jim Fries said his administration is taking a comprehensive look at the university’s budget to make sure it balances. He said the last time Highlands had an early retirement plan was in 2005.

“We’re getting a lot of interest in this program, and I think this can be a significant benefit, not only for those faculty and staff who are interested in retiring, but it would also provide benefits for the university,” Fries said.

Fries said the university would offer incentives to employees based on their number of years at Highlands. The minimum payment for early retirement would be $5,000, with a cap at $15,000.

“Offering this program this year is particularly timely, in the sense this is the last year in which employees who are on the state retirement plan can apply the payment they would receive for unused annual leave toward their last year’s salary, which has been used to compute the five-year average on which their retirement benefits are based,” Fries said. “So there is not only the incentive from the university, but also from the state retirement plan itself.”

Fries said there are probably employees whose service includes other state agencies. He said any of those people interested in early retirement should contact the human resources department because the university wouldn’t have records showing that service.

“We don’t know for sure how many people are eligible or how many people would exercise that option, but I think we will pick up some meaningful savings as a result of this program,” Fries said.     

Fries said he also wants to see a variety of administrative mergers and reductions as ways to save money.

“I anticipate we are going to be recommending merging the College of Science and Mathematics, with the College of Fine Arts and Humanities — and that we (will) merge some of our academic departments into somewhat larger units. We are going to be eliminating a number of staff vacancies. We are also reassigning a number of staff, so we have a very minimal impact on the actual employment of our current employees,” Fries said. 

Fries said there are some faculty vacancies and retirements, whose positions will not be filled anytime soon. He said there are also some term faculty who will not be reappointed for the coming year.     

Fries said many of the things that have been done over the last three years are beginning to pay dividends.

“We have eliminated all the steam lines we had on campus and have installed stand-alone boilers in each of our buildings. We’ve gone from a system that was about 30 percent efficient to one that is 90 percent efficient. As a result, we’re looking to reduce our utility budget by at least $200,000, and probably a bit more,” Fries said.

Fries said the university is looking at the non-salaried portion of the operating budget department by department. He said the same thing is true with travel budgets.

“In addition to that, we are working to consolidate class sections. We have centers in Farmington, Raton, Rio Rancho, Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Española, where we have some examples where the same class is being offered,” Fries said.

“In some classes we’ve only got five or six students, and if we are a little smarter in how we schedule, and use interactive television and other kinds of distance education methods, we can consolidate some of those sections into one, thereby reducing the number of adjunct faculty that impact the budget,” Fries said.