N.M Tech provides a top education, but for how long?
I was very pleased to see Gov. Susana Martinez’s enthusiastic support at the Spaceport America dedication on Monday for New Mexico children to pursue math, science and technological studies to help ensure a solid future for our state.
Unfortunately, recent actions by the state of New Mexico are dramatically reducing the likelihood that such dreams can be pursued in our state at a nationally competitive level.
New Mexico Tech, our only research university that has science and engineering as its primary focus, is perhaps the prime example of an ominous and ongoing decline in our four-year and graduate research-focused institutions.
Tech has no bloated bureaucracy scandals or sports program fiascoes to attract the attention of the media and provide finger-pointing anecdotes of wasted tax dollars. Instead, it simply offers a (still) remarkable educational opportunity to earn an exceptional education (and a high-paying and satisfying career) at a nationally very competitive cost.
However, this highly cost-effective and unique resource to our state is teetering on the edge of an implosion. A recent faculty survey found that more than one-third of Tech faculty members are actively seeking new jobs at other universities, and over half express an interest in leaving. Faculty and staff pay has been frozen for three years and has declined in real value terms due to increasing benefits costs. Full professor salaries at Tech average $16,000 less than that at the University of New Mexico (itself far from a national leader).
Tech has lost approximately 15 percent of its faculty in the past four years due to unaddressed attrition (approximately balancing budget decreases from the state). Faculty and science/engineering programs are extraordinarily productive investments; for my part, I currently support a nationally competitive research and educational program in geophysics that brings in approximately $70 to New Mexico in external grants for every dollar that I am paid by the state, support four to five graduate students, teach cutting-edge courses in my discipline and employ over 40 professional staff at the university with an annual payroll of over $6 million.
A few faculty stalwarts like me who were hired in a perhaps more enlightened time may choose to remain here until retirement and beyond to continue to help provide world-class educational and research opportunities in New Mexico, either out of love and loyalty to the state, or because we simply refuse to give up on the dream of a brighter future for New Mexico through world-class educational opportunities.
However, continued dismantlement of our science and technology programs and higher educational institutions means that it will likely be impossible to hire appropriate new faculty to sustain such excellence into the future. Talented New Mexico children who aspire to first-class education and career opportunities in math, science and engineering may have to pursue their goals and careers elsewhere.