College of Santa Fe takeover bill passes House committee

By John Sena: The New Mexican

The House Education Committee on Friday morning narrowly approved a bill that would give a state institution the authority to take over the College of Santa Fe.

Members voted 6-5 to approve House Bill 577, which was introduced by Rep. Lucky Varela, D-Santa Fe, and outlines the requirements for any institution interested in a takeover.

Discussion around the bill lasted more than 90 minutes and presented the first opportunity for lawmakers to publicly question both the bill’s sponsors and higher education officials.

More than 50 supporters of the college crowded the committee room, while more sat on the floor in the hall outside the room.

Varela appealed to the committee to pass the bill. “I’m hoping that we can find a way to utilize this facility and provide affordable education,” he said.

The most obvious concern was the cost to the state if the college is absorbed into the state system.

The school’s total annual operating cost has been estimated at about $16 million per year, with the state’s portion estimated between $3 million and $7 million annually — with tuition and fees paying for the rest.

While the state’s higher education funding formula would eventually cover the operating cost, because the formula is based on enrollment numbers from two years prior, the state would have to pay for operations for two years.

The current estimates are based on projected enrollment numbers and a ratio of in-state and out-of-state students, which would likely change if Highlands assumes control

The proposed bill prohibits a state institution from assuming any of the college’s debt.

Dasenbrock and New Mexico Highlands University President Jim Fries — whose institution is the only state school to express real interest in the takeover — explained that Highlands has been working with the college’s creditors to refinance the debt.

Contact John Sena at 986-3079 or jsena@sfnewmexican.com.