Regents Report: Enrollment, Finances, New Partnership

SOCORRO, N.M. November 20, 2012– The New Mexico Tech Board of Regents heard updates on a variety of university issues, including enrollment, state funding, finances and a pending partnership with Abu Dhabi.

Meeting in Albuquerque on Friday, Nov. 16, the Regents learned that early enrollment for the fall 2013 semester is on pace with last year. University President Dr. Daniel H. Lopez said national and statewide trends do not spell success for science and engineering programs. The number of students applying to Tech has dropped this year, but the number of incoming students who have paid their application fee has not dropped.

“We’ve seen a precipitous decline in the number of students [in the nation] who have indicated an interest in our disciplines,” he said. “We need to find a way to excite students about STEM programs. We need to keep reaching out to high schools and even lower grades.”

Regarding funding, Lopez said the proposed state formula for higher education is still detrimental to four-year institutions, particularly the research schools. Lopez and his colleagues penned a letter to the secretary of the Higher Education Department, expressing their concerns.

“We got his attention and we’re going back to the drawing board to consider our funding situation,” Lopez said. “The underlying premise is to reward and promote and advance STEM education, but we were among the few to lose money under the proposal. On basis of that, we pointed out that that doesn't make any sense. There will be some basic disagreementsover proper levels of funding for the different sectors in higher education during the legislative session, but we just simply can't accept lower funding for Tech because we’d be running our school with further diminished funding.”

The state funding formula is embedded within House Bill 2, which represents the state budget each year. The New Mexico Legislature meets for 60 days in 2013, starting in mid-January.

Other legislative agenda items for the 2013 session include capital funding for the three items: the Bureau of Geology building, the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and dormitory/infrastructure improvements. The voters of New Mexico approved a General Obligation Bond that includes $18 million for the Bureau; Tech needs another $6 million to construct the facility as designed and completely furnish the building. Lopez also will ask for $11 million for the Observatory and $2.5 million for a complete renovation of President’s Hall dormitory and other smaller infrastructure projects.

Vice President of Finance Lonnie Marquez presented the monthly financial report and a year-to-date report. Both reports show that Tech is staying within budget.

Vice President of Research Dr. Van Romero reported on a recent visit to Abu Dhabi and a visit to Socorro by representatives of the Abu Dhabi Inspector General’s office. Romero said the visitors were impressed with Tech’s facilities and are interested in partnering on disaster response training and law enforcement training. The Abu Dhabi contingent indicated that $1.2 million may be available to launch the training program. Romero also lead a tour of the Magdalena Ridge Observatory and encouraged the Abu Dhabi leaders to consider contributing to the operations of the 2.4-meter telescope.

Internal Auditor Alex Thyssen, representing the New Mexico Tech Foundation, reported about that entity’s annual meeting.

Thyssen said that during his 36 years with the Foundation he has seen the assets grow from $30,000 to more than $20 million – largely thanks to royalties from the invention of the nicotine patch. Currently, the Foundation contributes about $1 million to the university for scholarships and promotions.

He said he is working a group of faculty members on filing a new comprehensive patent that could rival the revenues earned from the nicotine patch.

“In the patent world, it’s difficult to forecast, but I think we’re going in the right direction,” Thyssen said.

In other business:

The Board learned of the October degree conferrals. Tech awarded four bachelor’s and three master’s degrees in the month.

The Board learned of three sabbatical leaves for professors: Dr. Lisa Young of the Physics Department, Dr. Doug Dunston of the Communication, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Department; and Dr. Sue Dunston of the Communication, Liberal Arts and Social Sciences Department.

Lopez and the Board wished fond farewells to outgoing Regents Omar Soliman and Abe Silver. Soliman is finishing his two-year term as the student regent. Silver is finishing a six-year term. New members of the board will be announced in the coming weeks; however, the new regents will not officially be confirmed until the Governor and the Legislative act. Therefore, Soliman and Silver may still be voting members for the February meeting – and perhaps beyond.

– NMT –

By Thomas Guengerich/New Mexico Tech