Dear faculty and staff,
At Tuesday’s Board of Regents meeting, I was honored with a very favorable evaluation. I truly believe that this is a reflection not of me, but of each of you and how you have made this university a better place. Over the last several years we have become a more community-focused institution that is moving in the direction of embracing our uniqueness and caring for both our students and our community. We are being progressive with confronting the realities of higher education and preparing for our future by challenging the status quo and identifying what it means to be distinctive. It has not been an easy journey as we struggle with the financial realities of the present moment. But each of you, in your own individual way, has contributed positively to the overall well-being of this wonderful institution where people can transform their lives through education.
Unfortunately, in spite of our tremendous progress, the financial crisis facing the State of New Mexico will soon make its way to our budget. Projections of recurring cuts to our operations funds range as high as $2.5 million for the current fiscal year alone, with more cuts expected for the next fiscal year. While politicians debate the appropriate way to meet their constitutional obligations, we must act now to avoid being caught without the means to adjust our budget. The goal is to meet the fiscal challenges we will soon face without having to resort to layoffs or furloughs. To do so, we will have to take advantage of leaving vacant positions unfilled, redistribute job functions, increase class sizes, consolidate our resources, and reduce spending.
It is easy to suggest that we use reserve funds or other one-time money, but this is not the answer as it only delays the inevitable given that the projected cuts are to reoccurring funds. But there are two sides of the ledger: cut expenses or build revenues. While reducing expenses we must emphasize, and do a better job, of building revenues. One out of two students leaves our institution at the end of their first year. Finding ways to keep just 10% of those who leave provides additional tuition and fees that would benefit us greatly. Retention is important for the fiscal health of this institution and for the success of our students. At the Board meeting, the Regents approved the continuation of our marketing efforts. Growing our student body by just 5% would lessen the need to make cuts. We all have a role in marketing and retention. Your support of these initiatives is crucial.
We also need to seek alternative funding. We must continue to develop international opportunities for additional revenue, pursue investments from domestic companies, and develop contracts with them to train their workforce. These initiatives have the potential to provide outside funds that are not reliant on the ebbs and flows of the state budget. You may have ideas about other revenue opportunities in your department, and I encourage you to share them.
The reality is that we must continue in our quest to do things better and to think beyond how we have historically done things. We must expand collectively in our approach to make it easy for people to take their courses both online and in person. We must shift our paradigms of collaboration, of policy, of procedures and of our daily habits to better serve our students. Only by shifting our practices will we successfully meet our fiscal challenges while maintaining our excellence.
My five years at Western New Mexico University have taught me one important fact. We truly have a faculty and staff that can and will make a difference. We have a faculty and staff that will make the adjustments for this university to succeed. And we have a faculty and staff that are truly responsive to meeting today’s challenges for a better tomorrow. I am privileged to lead such an amazing group of people and every day my gratitude grows deeper. Thank you for all you have done!
Joseph Shepard, Ph.D.