By Mary Alice Murphy
Western New Mexico University continues to find ways to cut spending. Due to a change in the state's formula for funding institutions of higher learning, Western is receiving less operational funding.
"Three years ago, we were funded at $100 per credit hour," WNMU President Joseph Shepard told the Beat. "Now we are receiving $4.75 per completed credit hour. The new formula funds degree completion. It's a challenge. The formula rewards us for those who started their course work as far back as 2008.
"The state has shifted funding based on performance as defined by the number of degrees we generate," he continued. "Credit hour funding is no longer as relevant, as it has a short term impact to us, because getting a degree takes four to six years as an undergraduate and two to four years as a graduate."
In an effort to trim $2.9 million from the budget for the new fiscal year, beginning July 1, Western notified before March 1 five non-tenured faculty members, who had been teaching at the university less than a year, that their contracts would not be renewed. Three are from the Silver City campus and two from the Gallup campus. He said the process followed the Faculty Handbook.
By the end of this spring semester, Western will develop a process to evaluate programs. "We are taking a look at all degree production and credit production," Shepard told the Beat. "This fall we will have the same programs as last fall, but by Oct. 15, we will determine which programs should be shut down."
Another issue Western will be addressing is possibly changing through efficiencies the staff-to-student ratio from 1 staff per 13 students to one with more students per staff member, while maintaining the quality of education.
With the change in the funding formula occurring as Western was increasing its graduate programs, the timing caused several graduate programs not to be funded. Although this year's legislative session attempted to rectify the problem for Western—the only institution in the state with the underfunding problem—only $500,000 was allocated, with Sen. Howie Morales and Rep. Rodolpho "Rudy" Martinez, managing to get through the committees to which they belong, another $400,000 for the university. Rep. Dianne Hamilton also secured $100,000 for technology at Western. According to Shepard, Western is still underfunded for graduate programs to the tune of about $1.4 million.
To a question about a hiring freeze, Shepard said, to meet this semester's $1.3 million shortfall, a hiring freeze was instituted. "It will extend into the upcoming fiscal year. It doesn't mean we won't hire anyone, but we will take a hard look to see if the position is critical."
Construction on Light Hall began last week and will feature state-of-the-art movie equipment to show first-run movies, three-to-five weeks after they are released, and is expected to be completed by the time the fall semester begins.
In other good news, students have agreed to a recreational $10 fee per credit hour to float a $4 million revenue bond, which will renovate the swimming pool area into a modern fitness center. The pool will be reduced to two 25-meter lanes, with a five-foot-deep shallow area for aqua aerobics and other shallow water activities. Also included in the renovation, will be a spa for various academic and athletic program needs focused on rehabilitation. A weight room will feature modern fitness equipment, and a climbing wall is being considered. Students, faculty and staff will have access to the facility, while community members may take advantage by paying a monthly membership fee. The expected completion time is spring 2015.