- Associated Press - Tuesday, October 4, 2016

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) - Months after seeing funding cuts, university officials in New Mexico expressed concern Tuesday over a GOP-led House proposal that would slash more money from state colleges amid a statewide budget crisis.

The concern came after House Republicans proposed Monday to replace Senate Democratic cuts in K-12 education with reductions in higher education. Under the GOP plan, colleges and universities in New Mexico would see around an additional 6 percent cut in funding.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers voted to cut higher education funding by 2.5 percent. The proposed decrease would be on top of that funding cut.

The Democratic-controlled Senate has adjourned, and leaders have not signaled if they would support higher education funding reductions to close an overall half-a-billion-dollar shortfall.

Eastern New Mexico University President Steven Gamble told The Associated Press the proposed reductions would add more stress to an already strapped school budget. “I would not say (the cuts) would totally undermine what we are doing but it would come close,” Gamble said.

Gamble said the Eastern New Mexico likely would have to raise tuition but not see layoffs.

“We feel it will be very difficult for higher education to achieve these cuts on top of the two and one-half percent already assessed in the regular session last January,” New Mexico State University Chancellor Garrey Carruthers.

Western New Mexico University spokesman Abe Villarreal said the school is looking at a hiring freeze and restructuring programs with the looming cuts.

Sean Weaver, a spokesman for Highlands University, said the northern New Mexico school said officials were examining options, including not filling open positions and possible furloughs.

“Our vice president of finance, Max Baca, has been holding campus forums to get the campus community’s input on identifying cuts that would minimize the impact on our students,” Weaver said.

Santa Fe Community College President Randy Grissom said cuts in higher education hurt the state as it struggles to prepare residents for new jobs.

“The students we serve can’t afford another tuition hike,” Grissom said.

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Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .

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