New Mexico’s biggest university once again got smaller this year.
University of New Mexico enrollment is down 6.5% compared with last fall, which amounts to about 1,600 fewer students. The dip will result in an estimated budget shortfall of about $4 million, because tuition and fee revenue will be less than university officials were predicting, UNM Provost James Holloway said.
“It’s never nice when you have to (fill) a budget shortfall,” Holloway told the Journal. “We have the reserves to do it. Spending reserves this way will probably mean not doing some other things. There will have to be some strategic choices made, but we can manage this.”
Last year, UNM had a 7% drop in enrollment, but that decrease was more unexpected, so it led to a nearly $10 million budget shortfall.
Fewer students entering research universities is nothing new in New Mexico. Both UNM in Albuquerque and New Mexico State University in Las Cruces have had dwindling enrollment for the better part of a decade.
There are many reasons for the trend, Holloway said. Some students have decided to take basic courses at cheaper community colleges instead of the four-year universities, and some would-be students have decided to work rather than enroll in college.
UNM this year has 16,170 undergraduates, down more than 18% from 2015, when there were 19,885 undergraduates. The total student head count, which includes graduate, law and medical students, is 22,792 students this year. In 2015, the total count was 27,352, according to UNM enrollment data.
UNM’s total student population has been declining since at least 2012.
NMSU’s student enrollment stabilized this year. The university’s entire student head count is 24,041, which is up 31 students from last year. The undergraduate student head count on the college’s main campus is 11,675, which is 12 students shy of what it was last fall, according to NMSU enrollment data. NMSU’s student population has declined each year since 2010 until the modest uptick this fall.
The school hired a new president and chancellor in May 2018. So, in some ways, NMSU is seeing the first student body numbers under Chancellor Dan Arvizu and President John Floros.
“We have our first snapshot at how we’ve done. And I’m happy to say we hit pretty much all our targets … the first of which was, ‘let’s stabilize enrollment,’ ” Arvizu told the Journal. “It’s the first time in nine years we haven’t had a decrease.”
NMSU has 2,182 freshmen this fall. That’s down from last year, when there were 2,266 freshmen. Arvizu said the university decreased the value of scholarships it awarded to freshmen this year, which he said accounted for the decrease.
The New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology has 1,174 degree-seeking undergraduates this year and 361 degree-seeking graduate students, according to Thom Guengerich, a spokesman for the university. There were 1,269 degree-seeking undergraduates and 353 degree-seeking graduates in the fall of 2018, according to college’s annual report.
Tech has 249 freshmen seeking degrees this year, compared with 302 last year.
Some of this year’s decrease at UNM, Holloway said, is a residual effect from last year’s stark and unexpected decline in freshmen. There was a more than 17% drop in freshmen in the fall of 2018 compared with the fall of 2017. And that class’s poor turnout will continue to affect the university as the students make their way through their undergraduate degrees.
“That’s one of the challenges,” Holloway said. “We have that bubble moving through.”
Improvements to graduation rates have also contributed to UNM’s declining enrollment. The university has improved its four- and six-year graduation rates in the past 10 years, which has decreased the length of stay for the average Lobo.
“We’re doing a better job of making sure that when students come here they complete … and that lowers enrollment,” Holloway said.
This year’s freshman class at UNM has 2,954 students, just 59 students shy of last year’s freshman class. So, in some way, enrollment numbers show that the university has stabilized a major problem, Holloway said.
“Last year, we saw that huge drop in new students coming in. And there was real fear that was the new trend and that was going to continue,” he said. “It’s disappointing to be down a little bit. But the key thing for us is that it’s a little bit.”