Higher education vouchers will ensure that schools operate efficiently and effectively

There is a lot of talk at UNM about making the school more environmentally responsible. A new degree is even being offered in sustainability studies. In keeping with this trend, the University and the state government should also consider making UNM more fiscally responsible.
With President David Schmidly implementing a freeze on hiring and faculty raises, University students are becoming increasingly critical of fiscal policy on campus. They have reason to be concerned. After all, major facility renovations and upgrades, including a $60 million renovation of The Pit, are moving forward despite the freeze on faculty spending. Some students have suggested Schmidly take cuts out of his own salary – which is $387,000, according to UNM’s public records – and administerial operations to ensure that the educational function of the University isn’t jeopardized.
Although the state has allocated less money to the University this year, UNM’s operating budget has increased by 10.4 percent. State allocations to the school are likely to continue their decline due to tax revenues taking a hit from dropping oil prices. If the school’s budget keeps increasing and state allocations continue to dwindle, the University will find itself having to compromise the quality of education just to keep itself afloat.
Unfortunately, the University’s incentives aren’t necessarily aligned with its purported educational goals. That’s because a relatively minor percentage of the school’s operating budget is collected from tuition – only 6.4 percent. Far more, 38.6 percent, comes from local, state and federal taxpayers.
New Mexico policymakers should consider realigning those incentives by routing a greater percentage of government money through students in the form of a voucher rather than directing it to the bureaucracy. Colorado is one state that has enacted this reform to positive effect. If New Mexico’s universities are forced to compete for students, and therefore money, student needs will begin taking precedence over basketball and administration. A voucher program will give students the ability to allocate government funds to whichever school they choose. In a free-market system like this, schools will naturally focus more on the quality of their product – education – rather than sports facilities or outrageous administrator salaries.
(The above letter was published in UNM’s student newspaper, The Daily Lobo.)
UNM’s President David Schmidly is also worried about the likely cuts in government allocations to the school. Hopefully this recession can give the university an opportunity to learn to operate more efficiently.