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Highlands increases fees, tuition to offset raises, new projects

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By Gabriel Poblete

Thursday’s special Highlands University’s Board of Regents meeting focused on a tuition and fees presentation by Vice President of Finance and Administration Max Baca.

He touching on the university’s current financial circumstances and making suggestions for the following school year, culminating in the board voting to increase tuition and fees in order fund new programs and faculty and staff raises.

The meeting, the first to feature newly appointed Regent Bill Garcia and Student Regent Rebekah Peoble, culminated in the board voting on a 3-2 majority to approve a 3 percent increase on in-state and out-of-state undergraduate and graduate tuition and fees, housing rates and meal plans, and an additional 3 percent increase for the new Masters of Fine Arts graduate program.

Chairman Leveo V. Sanchez and Board Members Garcia and Frank Marchi voted for passing the recommendations brought forth by the administration, while Vice-Chair LouElla Marr-Montoya and Peoble voted against it.

Baca prefaced his presentation with an article by the Chronicle of Higher Education that listed  seven things students consider when choosing a college, where affordability was ranked fifth, and the concerns of the Higher Learning Commission, an accreditation organization, including the need for reduction in the reliance on state funding to balance the school’s budget.

Throughout the presentation, Baca spoke of the university’s unreliable dependence on state funding and needs to have reserves were something to happen and invest in new programs and invest further in the university’s faculty and staff.

“If we don’t invest in some of these areas that deal with retention and if we don’t develop new programs and we don’t think outside the box, then what’s different?” he said.

“I’ve been working too hard to keep us in that kind of mindset… I want to see students here, I want to see a vibrant campus,” Baca added.

The presentation featured a list of President Minner’s budget priorities, with a raise for employees on top followed by student success initiatives. Minner told the Optic that the increases in tuition and fees would not help with all of his budget priorities, but it would help meet all the mandatory increases, as well as the proposed 4 percent raise for faculty and staff.

“No one wants to increase tuition for any student,” Minner said. “We do not receive enough resources from the state to do our work — we just don’t.”

Peoble showed skepticism that increasing tuition by 3 percent wouldn’t affect student enrollment and retention, often clashing with Baca and Minner on how much bearing the proposed increase would have on Highlands’ reputation as one of the most affordable universities in the Southwest.

“If we don’t solve it by raising tuition, then I really do believe that forces other key players to think a little harder,” Peoble said. “I feel confident in saying that we have the brain power to do it, and I don’t think raising tuition is the solution to the problem.”

The board also approved to institute to new programs that would compensate students based on their performances. One of them is the NMHU Success Guarantee, which would set tuition increases at no more than 3 percent per year for four continuous years so long as the student maintains a 2.75 GPA and completes 30 student credit hours over the academic year.

The other program is the NMHU Success Retention Rebate, in which students will be compensated based on their GPA so long as they complete 15 student credit hours per semester or 30 credits for the academic years. The rebate would range from $250 to $400 dollars and would during the first semester of the following school year.

One of the recommendations brought forth by the administration, an additional 2 percent increase for the tuition of international students, was scrapped during the meeting after two international students pleaded with the board and the administration to not add additional burdens to the students, many who struggle just to make their way to the U.S.