In my blog post last week, I talked about the degree-audit program being a “win-win-win” for our students, community and economy. It’s also a win for CNM.
But before I talk more about the degree-audit program and the state funding formula, I want to unpack some terminology that was used in last week’s comments. Some of the responses referred to “gaming” the system. When I read that term, it seemed the author was suggesting that CNM is doing something wrong. “Gaming” implies that we are providing degrees or certificates that have not been earned, giving credits to students they did not deserve, or creating awards for programs that do not exist. None of that is true.
For the past 15 years, the New Mexico Legislature has been trying to overhaul the funding formula from inputs to outputs. Policy makers have been clear that they want to change the behavior of higher education institutions from trying to simply get students in the seats to making sure they stay in school to graduate. They finally accomplished their goal through the current performance-based funding formula, which provides incentives for us to focus more on graduating students.
The changes in the formula reflect the realities of our country. In the Albuquerque Journal op-ed I wrote about the degree audit subject, I referenced studies that clearly show the importance of higher education degrees to individuals, communities and states. I also referred to the national focus on increasing the number of graduates. There is no need to repeat that information. But there is a need to keep repeating this message: in New Mexico, having more students graduate with associate’s and bachelor’s degrees is crucial.
CNM has been paying attention to the messages from our state-wide policy makers and our national leaders. We started efforts to increase graduation numbers many years ago. And CNM faculty and staff have done some nationally recognized work focused on helping more CNM students succeed.
We have definitely been moving in the right direction, and we will continue to explore ways to do even better. The degree-audit pilot is only one example. Our graduation numbers have been steadily increasing since 2008. And this has contributed to our work to improve our budget situation. CNM has slowly, but steadily, improved our financial situation since the height of our state budget cuts in 2009.
Because of the hard work of faculty and staff, CNM has been able to fend off the more drastic effects of the Great Recession that many other public organizations were unable to dodge, such as layoffs, furloughs and salary cuts. We fared better than most because of the Budget Reduction Plan we instituted in 2009, which included reorganizations to streamline operations, reductions in administrative positions, and a Voluntary Retirement Incentive program that saved us several million dollars.
CNM’s budget improvements have helped us invest in our most important resource – our employees. Although most state agencies, universities, colleges and school systems in New Mexico did not receive salary increases, CNM provided a 5 percent salary increase last year. This year, CNM exceeded the 1 percent salary increased provided by the state, providing employees with a 2 percent salary increase. Also, CNM announced in April that funding was being set aside to continue evaluating how staff and faculty salaries measure up against the same positions at peer institutions or in comparable markets. The staff adjustments have already occurred and CNM will be providing our full-time faculty an opportunity to receive an adjustment as well.
As I’ve said many times before, I strongly believe that CNM is one of the best community colleges in the country. To continue our ongoing journey toward being the best, we need to continue to be responsive to our policy makers and our community. And most of all, we need to focus on student success.
I’d love to hear what you think. Please post your thoughts.