More information needed on higher education


Higher education has been a hot topic both nationally and in New Mexico recently. Congress has been haggling over the interest rates charged on federal student loans while economists question the economic impact of deeply-indebted college graduates. Here in New Mexico, UNM faculty complains that their salaries are not competitive with other, similar schools.

Unfortunately, decisions are being made and policy reforms are being discussed based on inadequate information. Sometimes, this lack of information seems to result from a strategic plan to make it more difficult for the public and policymakers to make sound decisions.

Higher Education in New Mexico: A College on Every Corner?

(Albuquerque) A new report from the Rio Grande Foundation sheds some needed light on the sheer scope and magnitude of New Mexico’s higher education system. According to, “Higher Education in New Mexico: A Chicken in Every Pot, a Car in Every Garage, a College on Every Corner,” New Mexico’s four-year institutes of higher education have an astounding 38 campuses combined while the state’s two-year campuses and junior colleges have 27.

There are a total of 12 campuses to choose from in the Albuquerque Metropolitan area alone. There are 9 campuses in or within a one hour drive of Las Cruces.

As this study points out, the proliferation of campuses is a symptom of larger problems within New Mexico’s overall education system. Measured against other states, New Mexico:

  •  Dedicates a far greater percentage of personal incomes to higher education ($17.39 per $1,000 in New Mexico while the national average was about $7.00;
  • Graduates fewer of its students than other states (New Mexico ranks 46th in the nation);
  • Retains first-year students (for continued schooling) at the worst rate in the nation;
  • Demands taxpayers disproportionately foot the bill for higher education (2nd-highest nationally); and
  • Asks less than all but one other state of students, the direct beneficiaries of higher education, when it comes to tuition and fees.

Rio Grande Foundation president and co-author of the study Paul Gessing noted, “These data point to a system in which resources have been allocated in a scattershot manner.” Gessing continued, saying, “Taxpayer dollars are being spread out over too many campuses that are trying to serve disparate interests and expensive. Future cuts targeted at higher education in New Mexico may be necessary, but this reduction can be turned into a positive for higher education if resources are re-allocated in ways that produce excellence rather than serving all-comers.”

Co-author William Patrick Leonard noted that, “Areas of excellence do exist in New Mexico’s higher education system, especially at New Mexico Tech and the New Mexico Military Institute. Policymakers need to study these success stories to better understand how the overall system might be improved.”

Luncheon and panel discussion: Understanding gas prices and oil and gas in New Mexico

If you haven't noticed, gas prices are on their way down in recent weeks. While the media has taken note, the reasons behind the decrease are not obvious. That is why the upcoming panel discussion being held on May 30 (which Rio Grande Foundation president Paul Gessing will participate in) is so important (details and event invite here). You are encouraged to attend this free event!

At the Rio Grande Foundation, we have always stated clearly that gasoline prices are set largely by the marketplace with several additional factors impacting them. If there were a "vast conspiracy" on behalf of higher gas prices, they would be kept high all the time and would be far higher than they are. Enjoy lunch with us and find out more details not only on our perspective, but what one of the top national experts and several local ones have to say on the issue.

You can bet that gas prices will rise again some day and the conspiracy theorists will be there to blame "big oil" and point fingers (usually at the wrong parties).

Straight talk on the Federal Budget

Generally, the Rio Grande Foundation focuses on state and local policy issues. Nonetheless, given New Mexico’s status as one of, if not the, most reliant states on federal spending within its borders, the perilous condition of the federal budget must be of concern to all New Mexicans.

Particularly in this political season, the tendency is for the media and politicians to ignore what then- chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Mike Mullen, called, “The biggest threat we have to our national security is our debt.” After all, no one running for office wants to be seen as taking government benefits away from people.

Path to sound environmental policy for state


As the world celebrates Earth Day, it is time to separate real environmentalism from the fake variety. If there is one rule to follow in this regard, it’s this: if an idea is trendy, it probably isn’t good for the planet.

As environmentalism has become trendy, politicians and businesses have learned that appearing green can lead to profit and political gain. Increasingly, science takes a back seat to policies that make people feel good or appear environmentally friendly.

John Stossel's presentation in Albuquerque

Journalist and author John Stossel recently spoke at a Rio Grande Foundation event in Albuquerque. Footage of his talk can be found below:

John Stossel's presentation in Albuquerque: April 25, 2012 from Paul Gessing on Vimeo.

His slides are available here.

Can Government Do Anything Well?

I'm suspicious of superstitions, like astrology or the belief that "green jobs will fix the environment and the economy." I understand the appeal of such beliefs. People crave simple answers and want to believe that some higher power determines our fates.

The most socially destructive superstition of all is the intuitively appealing belief that problems are best solved by government.

Opinion polls suggest that Americans are dissatisfied with government. Yet whenever another crisis hits, the natural human instinct is to say, "Why doesn't the government do something?"

And politicians appear to be problem-solvers. We believe them when they say, "Yes, we can!"

In 2008, when Barack Obama's supporters shouted, "Yes, we can!" they expressed faith in the power of government to solve problems. Some acted as if Obama were a magical politician whose election would end poverty and inequality and bring us to "the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal."

At least now people have come to understand that presidents -- including this president -- can't perform miracles.

The Legislature: the root of New Mexico's problems


It has been said that “No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the Legislature is in session.” Nowhere does this statement hold truer than New Mexico which, according to most national measures, ranks highly on the things that it is bad to rank on (crime rates, tax burdens, poverty) and low on the things that we’d like to rank highly on (graduation rates, income levels). The good news is that New Mexico’s Legislature is only in session 30 or 60 days per year depending on the year (a 30 day session was completed this year).

There are many – of all races and political persuasions – who blame New Mexico’s unique cultural milieu for our problems. While well-intended, I believe that the preponderance of economic data and hundreds of years of experience has shown us that poverty and educational underperformance are self-inflicted problems, not the result of culture or a lack of natural resources, but of policies that either promote or hamper economic and social freedoms.

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