New Mexico State University is outsourcing employee health services to a private clinic and eliminating its women’s equestrian team and the surveying engineering degree program.
The cuts are part of NMSU’s efforts to address a $12.1 million budget shortfall in the current fiscal year.
Those aren’t the only programs affected. All colleges and administrative divisions are cutting their budgets by between 5 and 6.2 percent. The Administration and Finance Division, for example, is facing a cut of more than $2.1 million, or 6 percent of its budget. The College of Arts and Sciences is facing a cut of just under $2 million, or 5 percent of its current budget.
Even the Athletics Department is chipping in. In addition to the loss of one of its teams, Athletics is repaying the university’s general fund $454,301 in funding the university had previously given it.
The cuts were announced Wednesday at a public Board of Regents meeting and detailed by NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers in an interview with NMPolitics.net.
All 0n-campus employee health services will cease on Aug. 1, Carruthers said. “Discussions are under way with a third-party provider” to offer employees health services at a clinic in Las Cruces, Carruthers said. He declined to name the clinic.
The Campus Health Center — which currently serves students and employees — will lose seven jobs that are currently filled and two that are vacant because of the change, Carruthers said. Those jobs are among the 126 positions — 89 that are currently vacant and 37 that are filled — that NMSU said Tuesday it plans to eliminate.
The university “is making every effort to place employees who will be impacted by a position elimination into another job,” Carruthers wrote in a memo to NMSU employees on Tuesday.
Other than the employees of the Campus Health Center, professors in the Surveying Engineering program, and the two equestrian coaching positions, NMSU isn’t currently releasing a list of jobs that are being cut. NMSU spokesman Justin Bannister said no vice presidents or high-ranking directors are on the list.
As part of the agreement being worked out for a private company to take over employee health services, that provider will offer jobs to the Campus Health Center employees who will be laid off by NMSU, according to Carruthers.
In recent years the NCAA has gone back and forth on whether to recognize equestrian as a sport. Carruthers said the number of college equestrian teams has dropped from 23 to 17. NMSU had 11 women’s sports and six men’s sports — and it only needs 10 women’s sports to meet NCAA requirements.
One of two NMSU equestrian coaches recently resigned, and the other has indicated an intent to leave at the end of this year, Carruthers said. So NMSU “made the choice that we would eliminate” the program, he said.
“All scholarship commitments will be maintained,” he said.
Team members pleaded with the Regents on Wednesday to give them one more chance.
“I’m so proud of everyone on the team for this win,” Aggie head coach Robin Walters-Morris said at the time. “Each rider stepped up and competed in a way that N.M. State could be proud of. This was the right way to finish the season.”
Surveying Engineering program
The recommendation to eliminate the Surveying Engineering academic program at NMSU came from the College of Engineering, Carruthers said. The program explains on its website that surveying engineers “analyze, design, and execute surveying and mapping projects which help to define the world in which we live.”
“A good New Mexico example of work surveying engineers have done is the ‘Big I’ in Albuquerque – the interchange of Interstates 25 and 40 and their associated frontage roads,” a 2012 news release from the university stated.
The Faculty Senate will get a chance to weigh in on eliminating the program during the Fall semester before the university can make it final, but Carruthers believes he can make the cut regardless of the Faculty Senate’s recommendation. He also said the university has to “teach out” the students currently enrolled in the program before eliminating it, so the soonest it could be cut is December.
The program currently has 17 students enrolled and employs three professors. Those three are the only currently-filled faculty jobs that the university plans to cut. The other 34 filled positions being eliminated are staff jobs.
Carruthers has said the university will try to find other jobs for all employees whose positions are being cut, including the professors.
Center for Latin American and Border Studies
Another program affected by the changes is NMSU’s Center for Latin American and Border Studies, which aims “to foster excellence in Latin American academics at New Mexico State University,” according to its website.
The Center will be transferred to the International and Border Programs department at NMSU. As a result, its funding will change from what’s called I&G funding — or core funds — to non-I&G funding. Carruthers said International and Border Programs has greater access to grant funding that will allow the Center to continue without I&G funds.
The recommendation to move came from the College of Arts and Sciences, where the Center is located, according to Carruthers.
The Center runs the Frontera NorteSur news service that employs journalist Kent Paterson to cover U.S./Mexico border issues. NMPolitics.net regularly runs Paterson’s articles and recently partnered with Frontera NorteSur to cover the issue of arsenic in the water in the Sunland Park/Santa Teresa area.
Frontera NorteSur has scrambled to raise money from private donors in recent years.
“It will have all the funding to continue at its current level,” Bannister said about the Center for Latin American and Border Studies. “No jobs are being cut. It may actually function better because it will have more support through its new area.”
The university’s budget deficit was largely caused by cuts in state funding for the university and decreased student enrollment. To help balance the budget, the Board of Regents recently approved reductions in some employee benefits, including annual and sick leave and health and other insurance. Carruthers and many other high-ranking university employees have taken pay cuts that are expected to save $190,000 a year.
The Regents rejected a proposed tuition increase to help cover the shortfall in April, and additional cuts were needed.
Carruthers said university enrollment has been declining in part because so many students who enrolled during the national recession that began in 2008 are graduating, and incoming freshman classes aren’t as large. “Graduate enrollment is up a little right now,” he said. “I hope that will continue.”
The state’s budget woes continue to have an impact as well. Including the current $12.1 million in cuts, Carruthers said the university has had to cut about $30 million from its budget since he became president in 2013.
The State of New Mexico and NMSU aren’t alone in their economic troubles. Many other states and universities are facing shortfalls. Oklahoma cut higher education funding by 15.9 percent this fiscal year. The University of Wisconsin system has had to grapple with a $250 million cut over two years — in the middle of a four-year freeze on tuition rates. Some of Louisiana’s public universities have raised the possibility of privatizing as they face additional cuts in public money.
In New Mexico, the overall population is down, high-school graduation rates have dropped, and oil and gas revenues for state government have plummeted. Carruthers said all of those factors have contributed to the university’s budget troubles.
NMSU, Carruthers said, built up a staff with too many mid-level managers, largely during healthier budget years. “When money’s going up it’s easier to do and so you don’t manage as well on the way up,” he said.
The university is now forced to operate more efficiently and is discovering “some structural issues that need to be repaired,” he said.
Separate from the current budget cuts, NMSU is working to reorganize to cut costs, increase revenue, and operate more efficiently. The university is focusing some of its efforts on economic development. It’s leasing land to build a hotel. It’s planning to build a multi-use development on University Avenue where the old golf course clubhouse and State Police headquarters used to be located. And it’s looking to generate more money through the water rights it owns.
“We believe that part of our legacy here at NMSU is the land and water resources we have,” Carruthers said.
Reorganization will continue throughout this year. Carruthers said a couple of the university’s agricultural experimental stations are up for review. The university will evaluate smaller academic programs like Surveying Engineering, and is also discussing the possibility of adding a cybersecurity academic program.
NMSU doesn’t anticipate any additional job cuts as part of reorganization, but reclassifications to lower salaries are possible, Bannister said.
The changes, Carruthers said, will ultimately make NMSU a better and sustainable university.
Student health, counseling services may change
The budget situation may eventually affect health services for students too. “We may, by the end of the year if possible, actually outsource both the student and employee health services to a private company,” Carruthers said. “They will pay us lease to use our clinic facility and will call it an extended-hours clinic.”
That would result in the Campus Health Center having longer hours on weekdays and, for the first time, Saturday hours, he said.
The future of counseling services for NMSU students may also be up in the air. NMSU “may or may not move the Counseling Center to the Student Health Center,” Carruthers said.
He said some students have told him that it would be OK to visit counselors at the Health Center, which is designed for medical treatment, rather than a separate center designed for counseling. But there’s been resistance from the Counseling Center, he said.
“The Counseling Center is not in this mix at the moment,” Carruthers said. “If anything happens to the Counseling Center it will happen after we make these cuts. … That’s not a decision I have to make today.”