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UNM president raises concerns about enrollment

UNM President Garnett Stokes gives her “State of the University” address online. During the speech, Stokes talked about the highlights and challenges seen at UNM in the past year. (Courtesy of UNM)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

Despite a growth in freshman enrollment for the first time in years, University of New Mexico President Garnett Stokes said Thursday a “COVID-induced deficit” has forced the school to reexamine spending priorities this year and she remains concerned about future enrollment.

But in an online “State of the University” address, she pointed out the university’s high points during a year when curriculum and finances were upended by the pandemic. Those include a 2020 freshman class that was one of the most diverse in the school’s history.

The class was up about 7% from the year before – the first freshman class in four years to grow compared with the previous year. Enrollment of Native American and African American students was up 15% and 19%, respectively, compared with the 2019 class, according to UNM documents.

“Still, we remain concerned by the negative trends we, and all universities, face for future enrollment,” she said.

Stokes recorded the speech in her office, a break from tradition. The speech is normally offered in front of an audience in the Student Union Building, but was instead posted to the school’s website Thursday afternoon.

Among the other highlights Stokes mentioned in her speech:

• The university moved up 31 spots to number 187 in the U.S. News and World Report’s “Best Colleges” rankings;

• The school’s Center for Quantum Information and Control was picked by the U.S. Department of Energy for a five-year, $115 million project;

• Associate Professor of Music Theory and Composition Jose-Luis Hurtado was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship; and

• Distinguished Professor Emeritus Carlton Caves, who is in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, was elected to membership in the National Academy of Sciences and awarded the Micius Quantum Prize.

Stokes also mentioned significant infrastructure projects that began or were completed last year. The school revamped Johnson Center, the main campus gym that now includes an indoor running track and outdoor adventure center. Stokes also said a hospital tower project continued in 2020 and she expects construction to begin this year.

Despite the highlights, Stokes warned the campus community to brace for more reductions.

She said the university was hit hard financially from multiple angles because of the pandemic. The school also saw a reduction in state support, as well as additional costs and revenue losses.

UNM’s main campus and the Health Sciences Center had to adjust their budgets to carve out about $44 million from what was planned originally for the 2021 fiscal year.

“As a result, we have greatly slowed hiring of the essential staff and faculty who are the heart and soul of the university,” she said. “We have restructured offices and reallocated budgets to protect the core of our academic mission. These budget adjustments were, and remain, hard.”

On many of those fronts, UNM isn’t alone.

At New Mexico State University, enrollment at the main campus in Las Cruces was steady, but the branch campuses in Alamogordo, Carlsbad and Grants saw steep declines of anywhere from 23% to more than 38%, according to the Associated Press.

NMSU President John Floros told the AP that increases in out-of-state and graduate students have helped the university avoid significant revenue declines.

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