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UNM’s freshman enrollment up despite COVID

Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal

The number of incoming freshmen at the University of New Mexico increased this fall for the first time in four years, though the state’s flagship university still saw a slight dip in its total student population.

There are 22,244 students at UNM this year, down 548 from last fall, a 2.5% drop. Total credit hours being taken at UNM this semester are down 4.4% compared to last year, according to a fall 2020 enrollment report the university published Thursday.

But university officials said there are several encouraging trends in this year’s enrollment data.

The incoming freshman class of 2,788 students is up 7.5% from last year. That’s a sizable swing compared to recent years, which saw freshman enrollment dropping nearly 25 percent between 2016 and last year.

Another piece of good news was that the number of new graduate students is up 19% from last fall.

And more students moved to New Mexico from other states to become Lobos. Nonresident students are up nearly 9% compared to last fall.

Dan García, executive vice president of enrollment management, said officials were particularly pleased with the enrollment numbers given that the COVID-19 pandemic raised questions about students’ attendance. With so many classes being taught online and more restrictive campuses, higher education officials across the country were concerned many students would take a gap year or opt for community colleges.

“I was pleased that despite this pandemic and the challenges people are facing, there was a strong choice by many students to come to UNM,” García said.

UNM’s enrollment has been sliding for several years.

The total student population has declined 21% since 2016, when there were 27,060 students. At the start of the fall semesters in 2018 and 2019, total enrollment dropped 7% and 6.5%, respectively. And because those drops were unexpected, they caused multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.

“The small decrease (this year) was reflective of some of the prior years’ declines,” said Garcia. “I really believe we are doing a better job recruiting New Mexico residents and telling our story about what a great academic experience they are going to have here.”

UNM now has 15,776 undergraduates.

“I’m excited to see so many new undergraduates and new graduate students coming to UNM,” provost James Paul Holloway said in a statement. “Our educational environment is built on a foundation of excellence in research and scholarship, a foundation that creates a set of academic programs from which students at all levels will benefit personally and professionally. Their learning, and their future accomplishments will greatly benefit their families, their communities, and New Mexico.”

García added: “To me it says there’s a recognition of the value of a UNM degree, and that a lot of people across the state and the nation have been facing challenges, and I think they are looking forward to the future.”

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