Susana Martinez, new governor and new to governance, submitted her proposal for the state budget in early January. Her recommendation makes cuts across the board, but some of the deepest hit Central New Mexico Community College, where I am a member of the English faculty.
Her suggestions would mean a 17.7 percent reduction in CNM’s state funding on top of 13 percent already slashed from the school’s budget in the last two years. This shocking number is significantly higher than the 4 percent proposed by the Legislative Finance Committee. The governor’s plan is frightening in how much it threatens our state’s economic future and, coupled with comments Martinez made about higher education, how little it’s grounded in reality.
Amid her reasoning for such drastic cuts is the argument that CNM has too many campuses and is just too accessible. This is perhaps the first time in human history that anyone has suggested that our state uses too many resources on education. The thinking here displays a disconcerting ignorance as to what it is that higher education—especially a community college—does.
We are not flashy. We don’t get to spend millions (or even hundreds sometimes) on student unions or homecoming or pencils. We are, simply, the best opportunity that many New Mexicans have at getting a quality higher education. We create an educated, skilled workforce—something that corporations considering our state as a home need as much as, if not more than, tax breaks. Without the services we provide, tens of thousands of New Mexicans would find themselves unable to move forward, stagnating instead in minimum wage jobs or languishing on the unemployment rolls.
I wish. Sincerely. I want to live in that, as I’m pretty sure there’d be faculty parking and maternity leave.
Perhaps Martinez is basing her college-running expertise on a film she once saw at a Young Republicans Against Public Anything meeting and imagines us academics sitting in our mahogany-paneled offices, swirling brandy in our snifters while expounding on Gertrude Stein’s deconstruction of the language of the patriarchy. I wish. Sincerely. I want to live in that, as I’m pretty sure there’d be faculty parking and maternity leave.
The reality is far grittier. Imagine, instead, the average faculty member at CNM. She’s a part-time adjunct (who may actually work full-time while getting paid significantly less). She teaches at three sites (all large community colleges work on the multicampus model to provide access to nontraditional students), some of which are a 40-minute drive apart. She has 30 students on wait lists for each class and has seen her class sizes raised. Her salary has been reduced through increased health care and retirement contributions. She holds office hours in a slanted cubicle and grades a minimum of 1,000 assignments per semester.
Faculty at community colleges don’t spend work time on research; we are purely focused on teaching students. What then, Gov. Martinez, shall we cut? Electricity? Walls? She keeps suggesting “the bureaucracy” and then gives examples like principals in K-12 schools, positions that are only as necessary to the functioning of a school as a governor is to the running of a state.
Cuts like this are only minor close up, each resembling a tiny hash mark. Added together and seen from afar, they’re nothing less than a massacre.
Here is what will inevitably be slashed: access to classes. Class sizes have already been increased, so now sections and perhaps whole courses will be eliminated. Tuition could skyrocket. Now imagine our average student: a working, single parent of three with eight years’ experience in customer service who was laid off, has limited day care help and can only attend the campus nearest to her. She can’t work around these reductions.
These changes will prohibit a host of New Mexicans (as we serve students from across the state) from becoming effective members of the modern workforce. We cannot compete with other states without a healthy system of higher education. Cuts like this are only minor close up, each resembling a tiny hash mark. Added together and seen from afar, they’re nothing less than a massacre.
The proposed reductions focus on a few key areas. The first is a $2.5 million slashing to remedial education, of which CNM is the largest provider in the state. Martinez’ argument is that this is education that should be covered in K-12 and to fund it again is a kind of double-dipping. One, this supposes we live in a land of ideals rather than reality. More importantly, it ignores the fact that 61 percent of CNM’s remedial students are over 21, with an average age of 26. These are people who have been in the workforce from three to 50 years. Not surprisingly, they need a refresher on college algebra. This is not a frivolous extra. This kind of education is the reason community colleges exist.
... “those” people. I swear, they are always trying to take my jobs. Oh, no, that’s the state government. Never mind.
The governor has also proposed an $8.6 million cut to the nondiscrimination waiver that allows those who graduated from New Mexico high schools but may not have residency to pay in-state tuition. Martinez has loudly claimed that this is because the waiver pays for the tuition of illegal immigrants. Illegals! Gays! Nancy Pelosi!
The thing is, the waiver is a state mandate; it’s the law. CNM is required to uphold it. Plus, only 6 percent of the 3,750 students receiving this waiver are undocumented children who were brought here by their parents and went through APS schools. About 94 percent are local high school graduates who moved away and have come back, but I understand that those facts aren’t nearly as exciting as taking a stand against “those” people. I swear, they are always trying to take my jobs. Oh, no, that’s the state government. Never mind.
CNM is the character actor on the stage of New Mexican education. We’re not flashy, we get paid scale, but we’re in everything. You know us when you see us. Ask your dental hygienist, your emergency room nurse, your kid’s third-grade teacher—there’s a good chance they went to school here and were able to become parts of our state’s economic engine because of that. Such profoundly ill-advised cuts would directly hamper New Mexico’s ability to be economically competitive. Tax breaks to gas and oil can’t make up for the fact that we won’t have the workers to staff new industry, regardless of who made contributions to Martinez’ campaign.
The governor has said she’s not afraid to make the tough choices. But there’s nothing tough about placing the burden of making up the state’s deficit on the disenfranchised, those working hard toward self-improvement. In fact, it actually seems pretty easy to cut assistance to so many without a voice. A truly brave move would involve viewing higher education as an investment with significant returns, not a frivolous expenditure, and funding it accordingly.
I love my job, and I’m proud of the work my students do. They, in turn, understand the tremendous opportunities CNM provides and don’t take this service for granted. Perhaps the state of New Mexico could learn to do the same.