By Tony Parra
Gov. Bill Richardson made a pro-education stance on Thursday morning with Eastern New Mexico University students, local politicians and members of the Roosevelt County community.
Richardson spoke in the Becky Sharp Auditorium on the ENMU campus to answer questions about higher education, capital outlay money, the state economy and the 2005 state legislative session.
“I try to emphasize education,” Richardson said. “There were a lot of dramatic changes. We’re trying to spend more money on K-12. With higher education, Eastern and western community colleges are not well-funded in New Mexico. We want to graduate students and we want them to stay in New Mexico.”
However, Sen. Stuart Ingle (R-Portales), pointed out that higher education took a hit with a veto from Richardson on higher education funding.
Ingle said during the town hall meeting that $34 million was vetoed from House Bill 2, which would have helped offset the costs of tuition. The money would have gone to higher education institutions and help keep the institutions from having to raise tuition costs more than college officials had to.
Regents for ENMU recently approved an $83 increase in tuition per semester for resident and non-resident undergraduate students. The increase is 6.4 percent for residents and 2.06 percent for non-residents.
ENMU students expressed concerns about getting a well-paying job after they graduate. Some students said they felt they had to go out of state for their graduate work and to find good-paying jobs.
“This state has the fastest growing number of jobs,” Richardson said. “I want you to stay here and not go to Phoenix and Denver.”
He also talked to the audience about the success of the lottery scholarship. According to Richardson, millions have gone into the lottery scholarship. One of the dramatic changes Richardson eluded to from the session was the signing of Senate Bill 582, allowing undocumented high school students the opportunity to apply for the lottery scholarship.
The undocumented students can also apply for grants and loans. Leslie Spence, ENMU student, said she feared the situation would take away lottery scholarship money from U.S.-born citizens and would encourage more border-crossing by illegal immigrants.
“You can’t keep people from inspiring to get an education,” Richardson responded. “I signed the bill for undocumented students. My view is as long as you are here and are a law-abiding person, who is not taking away jobs from others, you should have access to an education as long as (your) parents have obtained legal status.”
Andy Mason, coordinator for ENMU’s Upward Bound, said he was worried that President George W. Bush would cut the Upward Bound program to help fund the “No Child Left Behind” program.
The ENMU Upward Bound program has been operating for more than 30 years, and currently serves high school students from Portales, Dora, Elida, Floyd, Texico, Mescalero, Hondo and Ruidoso. Upward Bound programs help low-income, minority, disabled and disadvantaged students acclimate to the college process.
There are approximately 60 high school students from Roosevelt, Curry and Lincoln Counties in ENMU’s program.
“Western governments have sent a letter (to Bush),” Richardson said. “I don’t like any cuts in education, such as Pell grants and Upward Bound. Hopefully we can reverse the decision, but you should be prepared for it.”
Richardson said he feels colleges such as ENMU are losing students to Texas schools. Richardson announced that $10 million will go towards higher education for a vocational school program. He said the objective is to merge community college vocational programs with local high schools so high school students can be in the programs.
As part of that initiative, Richardson said Clovis Community College will receive $650,000 to fund a technical and vocational education center during a press conference later at the Clovis-Carver Public Library. The program funds would go to the college, but upper-level high school students could also use the facilities to increase their vocational skills.
Richardson complimented area legislators for helping to bring $5 million to Roosevelt County entities, such as ENMU, City of Portales, Roosevelt County commission, high school and the Roosevelt General Hospital from the capital outlay.
Paul Jones, ENMU vice president for Academic Affairs, introduced Richardson to the crowd. University President Steven Gamble was in Santa Fe, signing paperwork accepting the newly acquired capital outlay funds.
Freedom Newspapers Staff Writer David Irvin contributed to this report.