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Thursday, July 13, 2017

Higher Ed Pummeled By Enrollment Decline And Battered State Budget; Time to Downsize And Change Constitution? Plus: Readers On Denver And Our Bottom Lines 

New Mexico higher education leaders keep trying to patch up their leaky boat with never-ending tuition increases and pre-doomed marketing campaigns to attract more students. In short, they're doing a lot of stuff to try to arrest the secular decline in student enrollment brought about by recent demographic changes--not enough college aged kids, New Mexico's stagnant population growth and its lousy economy. They seem to be talking about everything but the obvious--that the state is overwhelmed with colleges, universities, branch colleges, etc. etc.

Education leaders, including university presidents, legislators and NM Higher Ed Secretary Barbara Damron will gather to discuss this "crisis" at a town hall meeting July 19 at 7 p.m. that will air on KANW-FM 89.1.

For decades New Mexico has been in the grip of a state Constitution that went overboard with pork barrel politics and established too many schools. We've been off to the races ever since adding dozens of institutions for a small state of 2 million and one whose once promising growth has been halted for the better part of a decade.

The question for education leaders and the next Governor is not how to keep patching the old boat but to build a new, slimmer and more efficient model for a state that shows no signs of the major economic turnaround needed to sustain the top heavy higher ed establishment.

However, the desperation to cling to the model of the past, which supports so many well-paid administrators, endures. NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers continues to maintain that his school can and should attract thousands of students from Mexico to sustain the failed model. Why? To sustain a super sized education system--31 universities and brain colleges-- that demands right sizing?

If the talking heads at the townhall really want to get serious, they can start talking about this and urge the next Governor to lead the way. NM House Appropriations Committee chairwoman Patty is nibbling at the edges:

(Rep.) Lundstrom – like many others – questions the viability of a higher education network that includes so many points of access. She noted that Silver City-based Western New Mexico University has a presence in her Gallup district, approximately a half-mile from the University of New Mexico’s Gallup branch. She said there are many similar examples around the state. “It’s a lot of money (going to higher education). And we want to make sure it’s going to the best, most efficient system,” she said.

And what about the gubernatorial candidates? Will any of them step forward and question the wisdom of having seven, four year schools embedded in the state Constitution in this era? Will any propose a constitutional amendment for reform? Former GOP Governor Carruthers  analyzes that:

You want to get a governor right at the end of a term to do it,” he said. “… I will tell you it would take a lot of political courage to do a lot of work on that and perhaps it’s time we found somebody with the political courage to do it.

Only when you start hearing specific and multiple references to some of those 31 higher ed institutions whose time has passed will we know that New Mexico is getting serious about building that new boat and finally retiring the leaky craft that our leaders keep trying to plug.

DATELINE DENVER

Quite a number of responses to our essay on our recent trip to Denver and contrasting it with ABQ. Some readers, including Nicolas Cordova, thought we may have downplayed Denver crime. For example, this dispatch from the Denver Post:

Crime rates dropped or remained static in many of the nation’s 30 largest cities last year, but in Colorado the crime rate per 100,000 people spiked by 3.4 percent, fueled by a rise in auto thefts, rape, murder and robbery. Colorado’s crime-rate increase in 2016 was more than 11 times the 0.3 percent average increase reported in the 30 largest cities in the nation, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Last year’s number of homicides — 189 — marked an 9.9 percent increase over the 172 in 2015, according to the Colorado Bureau of Investigation report “2016 Crime in Colorado.” Nearly one in three homicides were committed in Denver.

Not good, but not so bad that it seems to be interfering with Denver's growth path and prosperity, unlike here.

Former Duke City resident Scott Maddaux writes from Denver:

Hi Joe, I made the move to the Denver area about 4 years ago after getting laid off from my job in Albuquerque. It was bittersweet as I am a native Burqueno and I was one of the last of my circle of friends to stick around ABQ. For the longest time I was convinced I was never going to leave. I felt that I had to stay in my home state to help contribute in some way. I didn't want to be just another person who gave up on New Mexico. Alas, I became yet another victim of the stagnant economy and had to leave to find gainful employment. In the end, moving to Denver was one of the best decisions I ever made.  The economy is booming, there's tons of cultural, sporting, and outdoor activities, and it's overwhelmingly safe. I bought an alarm system for my home two years ago and my wife and I rarely remember to turn it on. You just don't have that low-key sense of menace here that you have in Albuquerque. You can relax a bit more. My parents still live in the Duke City and I'm trying to encourage them to move here. They are retirees, and at times I fear for their safety. My dad recently told me that he's taken to carrying a knife when walking the dogs. I just had to shake my head. What is happening to my city?

And Isabelle Zamora wrote:

Joe, a couple years ago in graduate school, I did a paper on Denver’s economy. What struck me was the emphasis they placed on the children beginning in preschool. I really believe many professionals move to or leave a state with their children’s future in mind. 

Isabelle sent this link to the Denver city budget which highlights the city's investment in early childhood programs.

THE BOTTOM LINES

We blogged this week that Dem Guv Candidate Michelle Lujan Grisham held her fire and did not attack GOP Congressman and freshly minted Guv candidate Steve Pearce on the day he announced his Guv bid, but this reader says while Michelle may not have beaten up on Pearce, that doesn't mean her fund-raising arm held back. This letter from hit soon after Pearce made it official:

Pearce will never stand up to Trump's dangerous agenda – because he agrees with it. He's voted with Trump 95% of the time so far, including voting for the deadly GOP health care bill that would rip insurance away from 23 million people. Between him and Michelle, the choice couldn't be clearer – and the stakes couldn't be higher . . .If we don't fight to support Michelle, Pearce could turn New Mexico into Trump Country. We need to get $10,000 in our rapid response fund by midnight. . .

Hey, there could be an idea there. We appeal to the President's ego by changing the name of New Mexico to "Trump Country" and sit back and watch the dollars flow. Imagine, a new Trump Tower" in Old Town! Yeah, now we're bloggin'. . .

This is the home of New Mexico politics.

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