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New Mexico Lawmakers Deliberate College Funds for Native Americans

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New Mexico lawmakers are deliberating on a bill that proposes allocating more funds for higher education throughout the state so that colleges and universities are better equipped to serve Native American students.

If it is approved, House Bill 87 would provide more than $26 million for public colleges, universities, and tribal colleges. These funds are expected to meet the needs of Native American students and would be implemented during fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

The New Mexico Political Report pointed out that the state’s indigenous students, which compose around 10 percent of the student population, “lag behind their New Mexico peers in several education benchmarks.”

Aside from helping Native Americans continue their education, it is also expected to help them better transition from high school to college.

The bill was introduced by Reps Derrick J Lente, Georgene Louis, and Doreen Wonda Johnson.

Funding would reach $12 million for the University of New Mexico, $3 million for Highlands University, $950,000 each for New Mexico State University and Northern New Mexico College, and $9 million to Navajo Tech, Dine College, and Southwestern Indian Polytech. 

Funding Woes

Overall, New Mexico colleges and universities have been struggling with the pandemic as they try to balance planning the fall semester, implementing safety measures, and working on a reduced budget. 

In June 2020, Gov. Michelle Kujan Grisham and legislators approved spending cuts to higher education after the pandemic and falling oil revenues led to a budget shortfall. 

The Santa Fe New Mexican highlighted these financial troubles in an article published in June 2020. The University of New Mexico faced a $22 million curb in state funding, an amount equivalent to the entire budget for its law and engineering schools, and budgeting for New Mexico State University also dropped by $20 million. This was caused by reduced state funding, lower revenue from enrollment, and the decreased need for on-campus services such as housing and dining. 

Different Expectations of Enrollment Rates

Around the country, freshmen enrollment among Native American students went down by 22 percent; and in community colleges, it sank to almost 30 percent in the last fall semester. Predictions of enrollment rates for the following fall semester – an important source of revenue at many colleges and universities – in New Mexico higher education vary widely.

Associated Press reported that while some officials believe that more people will enroll in colleges as part of their effort to switch professors or advance their careers in the unstable job market, many students have been pushed to drop their classes because they lack childcare and can no longer afford higher education.

Acting Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez believes that enrollment rates could increase as institutions and people navigate the pandemic, referencing the increase in enrollment after the Great Recession of 2008.

AP added that the Higher Education Department is requesting “$803.2 million for the state’s colleges, $24.5 million for state financial aid programs, $7 million for adult education, and $3.9 for operating costs.”

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