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UNM sees sharp increase in online enrollment

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The number of online-only students at the University of New Mexico has climbed 65 percent in three years – something leaders consider a positive step toward broadening the student base but no cure-all for the institution’s larger budget woes.

Based on fall 2017 figures, 7 percent of all students at the state’s largest university now attend exclusively through the internet, and nearly one out of every three UNM students take at least one online course.

The growth follows UNM’s increasing emphasis on web-based offerings.

By spring, the university will have 10 “managed online programs” – those that provide a structured path toward a degree in subject areas that include psychology, construction management and Native American studies. Several more are in planning or under discussion.

Beyond the managed programs, UNM puts hundreds of sections on the internet, where online-only students can string together degrees or traditional students can supplement their in-person courses, according to Terry Babbitt, vice provost for enrollment management and analytics.

This fall, UNM has 1,857 online-only students, up from 1,536 last year and 1,122 in 2014.

The university currently has 7,877 students, out of a total 26,278, who take at least one online course.

UNM says the online programs attract students the school might not otherwise get; the managed programs, in particular, target nontraditional students like adults and part-timers.

Babbitt said UNM’s efforts have been successful so far. But at a recent meeting of the regents’ Academic/Student Affairs & Research Committee, he cautioned that UNM cannot rely solely on growth in that area to combat its bigger-picture enrollment declines.

UNM’s total head count has declined five consecutive years, falling a cumulative 9.3 percent since 2012. Credit hours dipped 3.9 percent between fall 2016 and fall 2017, contributing to an unanticipated $2 million tuition shortfall this fiscal year.

UNM’s managed online undergraduate programs cost $340.52 per credit hour. Tuition for a traditional, full-time, in-state student starts at $2,643 per semester, while the out-of-state students’ rate is $10,274.

“It’s a piece of the enrollment portfolio; for us (it) can’t be everything. It’s not going to solve all our problems,” Babbitt said.

He noted that most managed online programs encompass just three to six credit hours at a time, meaning it usually takes at least two of those students to make up for the loss of one full-timer.

Babbitt said UNM should work to meet demand for online programming but not completely shift its business model.

“We don’t have an intent to be an online university,” he said.

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