By Barbara Couture
Like all state institutions, New Mexico State University faced serious reductions to its budget this fiscal year. The process of reducing spending and cutting expenses is never easy. In the case of NMSU, I am proud to say that our faculty, staff and administration worked admirably with me to reduce our budget responsibly, staying true to the key roles we play in our community.
As New Mexico's only land-grant research university, NMSU serves the entire state through its mission of excellence in academic programs and teaching, world-class research and outreach to the communities we serve through 13 agricultural research centers and Cooperative Extension Service sites in all 33 counties.
Our faculty and staff develop the academic and life skills of students, help them reach their potential and prepare them to lead successful lives as productive members of their communities.
In terms of research, communities across New Mexico benefit from NMSU's ability to bring in millions of dollars in federal grant and contract funding. Our service and outreach activities include practical solutions to everyday problems and educational programs that improve the well-being of residents across the state. It is important to note that with our statewide budget of $682 million from all sources, NMSU is one of the largest employers in Las Cruces and, as such, plays a vital role in supporting the local economy both here and in communities across the state.
In reducing NMSU's budget, we have maintained a balance between meeting the state requirement to trim budgets and our responsibility to provide excellent programs for our students, support our employees and serve our community.
Rather than across-the-board budget reductions, we created an inclusive budget process by asking our university leaders to prioritize affected functions and services before making recommendations for budget cuts. Our university budget committee reviewed all recommendations, which were then posted for public comment before I approved final reductions.
Our goal was to approach the budget reductions strategically and adhere to the following principles that were established at the beginning of the process:
- Protect strategic priorities in instruction, research and outreach
- Preserve core programs and functions
- Maintain academic quality
Every department on campus has been impacted by the cuts. The largest share of the budget reduction was allocated to administrative departments (reduced 7.9 percent) in order to minimize the impact on the academic side (reduced 5.1 percent). As part of our overall reduction process, the athletics program was reduced by 10 percent in its state appropriation.
In talking to community members, as well as faculty, staff and students, I have heard your concerns regarding the athletics program budget as it affects our instruction and general budget. NMSU fares well when compared to our peers in the funding we allocate for instruction. For fiscal year 2011, 59 percent of unrestricted and restricted funds for the Las Cruces campus are budgeted to instruction while the average portion for our peers is 53 percent. In short, we devote more funds to instruction than other universities identified as our peers.
Considering all universities with Division I athletics programs, 103 out of more than 120 use budget transfers like we do to support their athletics programs. On a national level, universities transfer an average of $10.2 million to athletics programs. NMSU, in fiscal year 2011, transferred $4.1 million, well below the average. The fact is that the vast majority of athletics programs like ours require some support from instruction and general budgets. If we look at that budget transfer in light of our overall university budget, our total athletics budget as reported to the state is $16 million, just 2 percent of our total university budget (all sources, all campuses) of $682 million. The $4.1 million transfer is less than 1 percent of that total. Yet the athletics program supports 425 student athletes whose graduation rates are 20 percent better than our overall student population, who represent greater diversity than the general student population, and who through their performance on courts and fields provide a solid connection to NMSU for our alumni and friends. That connection also played a significant role in our success in raising $256 million for NMSU's first capital campaign, exceeding our goal by more than $30 million.
I will keep my pledge to always make academic programs a top priority at NMSU. Our goal is to allocate less from our general fund for athletics. At the same time, we must balance the value of having a right-priced mid-sized Division I athletics program in proportion with its true expense to the university.
Innovative, thoughtful and relevant strategies are critical as we face ongoing fiscal issues. I have a great deal of admiration for our deans and department heads who looked hard at their budgets and developed solid plans to address the financial situation without sacrificing services to our students. Despite recent budget challenges, we remain steadfast in our commitment to serving our students and all citizens of New Mexico.
Barbara Couture is President of New Mexico State University.