The New Mexican

 

A proposed higher education budget would give $7 million to any school that acquires the College of Santa Fe.

Higher Education Secretary Reed Dasenbrock said the $7 million is based on estimates of enrollment for next school year, and should be the most any school would need.

About 20 supporters of the college were on hand when the House Appropriations and Finance Committee discussed the proposal Thursday.

While New Mexico Highlands University – so far the only school pursuing a takeover of the college – said recently that it would cost the state about $3 million to acquire the school, Dasenbrock said that estimate was based on an assumption that the college’s in-state and out-of-state enrollment remained stable for next year.

“We don’t know what that mix is going to be,” Dasenbrock said. So instead of giving a number that might later have to be revised, he said, the $7 million is a safe estimate.

The $7 million, which was recommended by the Governor’s Office, is what it would take to run the school after student tuition and fees. It does not include the approximate $35 million debt the college owes.

The Legislative Finance Committee, which makes recommendations separate from the governor, did not set aside any money for acquiring the college.

At Thursday’s committee meeting, Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, made a point to ask why the LFC’s recommendations did not match the governor’s. David Abbey, director of the LFC, said his committee had no recommendation for the college.

Other than that brief discussion, committee members said little else about the college or the possibility of the state takeover. Not even Highlands President Jim Fries, who spoke briefly to the committee regarding his school’s budget, mentioned it.

Varela, who was approached by two CSF students before the meeting, gave the students a chance to address the committee.

“We are very concerned about our college,” said senior Alysha Shaw. “Our institution is imperative to this community.” Shaw argued that the college’s economic impact on Santa Fe made it worth saving.

Irina Zerkin, a senior and student representative to the college’s board of trustees, told the committee that it made sense to have a four-year public university focused on the arts in the state capital.

The committee tabled the higher education budget and sent it to a subcommittee, which will meet Saturday to discuss specifics.

Meanwhile, the other legislation regarding the college – a bill introduced by Varela that would grant a state institution the authority to take over the scschool – has not yet made it to the first of two scheduled committee hearings.