Consolidating New Mexico College Boards Is Not The Solution


One of the most decentralized higher education systems in the country is likely to remain so for the time being.

A committee convened by the state’s Department of Higher Education to study potential changes to the governance of universities and colleges in New Mexico recommends no changes to the current model – a model that includes 21 boards of directors overseeing 31 public establishments.

HED secretary Barbara Damron called the result “a bit disappointing” if not a surprise, and is still not convinced that the status quo is ideal. In fact, she is arguing for further research on possible consolidation among state two-year institutions.

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“There was no quick fix, no magic answer to how we as a state should be governed,” Damron said. “(But) I don’t think keeping our 21 boards is the way to go. I think that needs further study.”

The committee looked at the structure of higher education in every other state and didn’t identify a perfect solution for New Mexico – at least nothing that would save money, Damron said. New Mexico now spends 12.3% of its general funds on higher education, or $ 745 million for this fiscal year.

The problem of distances

The committee considered various scenarios, such as consolidating the governance of all institutions into a single ‘super council’, which it said would not reduce costs and could create new problems by removing decision-makers from the schools themselves. same. He also rejected a pair of two-card models; one model had a board for all four-year schools and another for two-year schools; the other model would create a system led by the University of New Mexico with all schools upstate and a southern system led by New Mexico State University. But Damron said that grouping together institutions with such different missions made them less attractive.

Committee co-chair and University of Western New Mexico president Joe Shepard said the group’s study of other states found no consolidated model compelling enough to recommend major change in New Mexico. , especially given concerns about handing over what are now institutional-level decisions to what may be a remote governing body.

“We don’t want to lose local control,” he said.

Change HED instead?

However, he said the committee was looking to improve coordination between institutions – which he believed could be achieved by changing the higher education department. He suggested replacing what is now a cabinet-level agency headed by a governor appointed to a council with representatives from various constituencies and increased authority to set direction and overall policy. It could also promote consistency amid changing governors, Shepard said.

New Mexico previously had a higher education commission, but the legislature voted in 2005 to replace it with a cabinet department.

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Damron said sitting in the governor’s office strengthens collaboration with other executive agencies, such as the Department of Public Education, but having a board – rather than the governor – appointing the head of education state leader could bring stability between administrations.

But like university governance, she said there was “no one answer”.

The study began last summer as part of a larger master planning process that the Damron Department began in 2016 and in response to growing state interest in possible consolidation.

Rep. Bill McCamley, D-Mesilla Park, and Senator John Sapien, D-Corrales sponsored a joint memorial during last year’s legislature calling for the Department of Higher Education to study the costs and benefits of New Mexico system “compared to other systems, including unit systems and their variations.

Structure of the study

Damron convened three sub-committees – one focused on alternative governance structures across the country to identify any possible changes in New Mexico. Its recommendations would be passed on to the other sub-committees to study the financial implications and any legal or constitutional changes needed to accommodate them.

More than half of the 19 members of the governance subcommittee came from the institutions themselves, including several presidents; The president of Central New Mexico Community College, Kathie Winograd, served as co-chair with Shepard. Others included Terri Cole, president and CEO of the Greater Albuquerque Chamber of Commerce; Workforce Solutions Department Secretary, Celina Bussey; and the director of the New Mexico Legislative Finance Committee, David Abbey.

While the study didn’t come up with a perfect solution for New Mexico, Damron said it ruled out at least some alternatives, such as using a single board.

“I’m sad we don’t have the only answer,” she said. “I’m not surprised where it ended up, (but) there is a holistic analysis that answers some questions for us – that way we don’t have to ask ourselves the question.”

She said she would like to consider more of bringing community colleges and high school campuses across the state under one umbrella, whether it’s a board of trustees or “coordination.” All would still maintain at least one local advisory board, but Damron said she believed efficiencies were possible and was already in talks with many institutions.

“I don’t see a council for universities doing much for us here in our state,” she said. “But I recommend that we look very carefully at the possibility of a comprehensive board of directors for independents (community colleges) and branches.”

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