Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of three articles on the Jan. 30 SWNM Board of Regents meeting held in Santa Fe.

Several Santa Fe dignitaries spoke to the Western New Mexico University Board of Regents members at their monthly meeting in Santa Fe on Thursday, Jan. 31. It was available by webcast from the state capitol.

The first order of business was to introduce two new regents. Dan Salzwedel was named to replace Charles Randy Briggs, and the new student regent will be Camille Hawkins, replacing the outgoing student regent, Kelly Clark.

Regent Tony Trujillo introduced David Abbey, Legislative Finance Committee director, who started his talk by saying that Western was special to him, because he cared a lot for the late Sen. Ben Altamirano.

"We're here in challenging economic times," Abbey said. "But New Mexico's results were outstanding. We kept the doors open, even with 20 percent less income."

He said he expects in fiscal year 2014 to be able to go much farther, "where our head will be above water. The LFC and the governor's budgets are within $1 million of each other. Of course, there are different priorities in each." He introduced Tracy Hartzler-Toon, who works with the LFC, before she had to attend another meeting.

Abbey continued by saying the Legislature had pushed for years to shift funding to outcomes by changing ways of managing the incentives that are changing the funding formula.

WNMU President Joseph Shepard said Abbey has been a champion of Western. To Abbey, he requested: "Please share the hurdles you see within the next 40 or so days."

"Both the Legislature and the executive branch have agreed not to spend every dollar," Abbey said. "The state budget is $6 billion, with $6 million of that coming in federal funds. Our reasonable expectations are for up to 8 percent cuts in federal revenue. The labs and bases face cuts, and we're worrying about tax credits exploding. Take the film industry, which is capped at $50 million. Capping is good. The high-wage job credit has exploded to $25 million."

He said a new revenue estimate is expected Feb. 11, and concerns are that the revenues could go down.

"We're having the blows of the New Mexico Finance Authority not keeping its books in order and the blow of not meeting special education federal requirements," he continued. "So there is downward pressure on revenues and on capital outlay."

Lt. Gov. John Sanchez was the next to speak to the group, which included regents, as well as Silver City-Grant County Prospectors members, and faculty, staff and students from Western.

"It is important to remember that we are public servants," Sanchez began. "On behalf of the governor and the executive branch, I thank you for your dedication.

"Our biggest concern is the state budget," he continued. "We want to make sure Western gets help." He invited those present to utilize his office "to make sure your voice is heard."

He left to begin the Senate session.

Higher Education Department Secretary José Garcia said he, too, had a soft spot for Western. His mother attended her first year of college at Western and waited tables in the cafeteria.

"In higher education, two years ago, when I came on board, we were most interested in changing the funding formula," Garcia said. "We changed it in the first year."

He said three major metrics are rewarded in the formula, the first being the total number of degrees in a higher education institution; and the second, the stem degrees, which employers are asking for. They are increasingly asking for degrees in science, technology, English, math and health. "Obamacare will generate a need for more health workers. We cannot have a globally competitive workforce without getting at-risk students into, through and out of the system."

The third metric is a change in the number of students. "We are trying to de-emphasize that.  We were unsuccessful in getting adequate transfer numbers from two-year institutions. The research institutions felt they were not getting a reward. We will be spending more time in gearing up on the metrics right after the session."

In order to close the achievement gap, he said, institutions must do a better job of remediation and getting information on the success of remediation.

"We are concerned about the graduation rates, which are low at all levels in New Mexico," Garcia said. Even at (the University of New Mexico), those who graduate within four years are only 12 percent and within six years, 43 percent."

He said the governor is concerned that we need to make an effort to make sure students are taking enough courses, so they get success in a shorter time, rather than dragging it out. "We are suggesting dropping the required number of credit hours from 128 to 120."

"For the first time, we are one of a few states where the older generation of those from 35-64 years of age are better educated than the younger generation," Garcia reported. "We also need to improve the quality of government workers from local to state to federal, which are 23 percent of the workforce." He suggested a certificate showing that a worker is prepared to step into a government job in New Mexico.

Shepard commended Garcia for being the longest-serving secretary of the Higher Education Department. "It pays dividends. When I stumbled, he picked me up."

"I am concerned about having a globally competitive workforce," Garcia said. "Western and the other higher education institutions are at the forefront."

The next speaker was David Lepre, Council of University Presidents executive director.

"Difficult times were significant across the country," Lepre said. "Higher education is where states balance their budgets. Higher education was in that position for four years. The impact was $260 million. UNM lost 1,000 employees, while it picked up 1,500 new students.

"Now we are transitioning from expenditures-based to outcomes-based incentives," Lepre said. "I believe it is in our best interests to continue to move in this direction. We ask that the approach be thoughtful, conscious, well-planned out and responsive."

He said he wants students to complete their degrees and go into professional jobs. "The recommendations on the table right now have a general wave of support.  The program measure is completion of 32 credit hours, which is the common core. The common core is the hours that are transferrable. The second measure is 64 credits. This is when students achieve their junior year, are pursuing what their interest is, and the graduation rate jumps to 85 percent."

The rest of the meeting, which consisted of various reports, as well as discussion on bond sales for future construction, will be covered in one or more subsequent articles.

Live from Silver City

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