We appreciate Legislative Finance Committee Chairwoman Rep. Patricia Lundstrom’s interest in seeing UNM succeed and her perspective on enrollment as one of several key performance indicators, as articulated in her opinion piece in the Journal on June 1. She and other legislators were attentive to the University of New Mexico’s needs this past session in support of operations and capital outlays. We agree the public should expect a robust return on investment in higher education, and the performance of a complex public research university has many dimensions. In fact, the 2021 U.S. News and World Report Best Colleges Rankings moved UNM up 31 spots this year.
In 2020, the university got off to a strong start toward improving efficiency by finding approximately $20 million of recurring savings within the Health Sciences enterprise, but we feel we must go beyond periodic expense purges. In our upcoming strategic plan, the university will endeavor to establish processes whereby productivity is measured, monitored and rewarded and new sources of revenue are sought on a continuing basis. Such a process is difficult to establish in an academic setting and will require full participation from all.
To address some of Lundstrom’s concerns, while N.M.’s high school graduates did increase by 2% last year, the number of students who intend to attend a university, as indicated by ACT test participation, has declined by 8% since 2015. We cannot undo the five previous years of UNM’s enrollment decline, but we can impact student retention and incoming enrollment. This year, UNM freshman enrollment increased by 7.5%, a reversal of recent trends. Incoming graduate enrollment increased by 20%.
This metric was one of several goals that comprised the criteria for the university president’s contracted bonus. Others included student retention, graduation rates, research grants and diversity. She met or exceeded goals in every category. Graduation rates at the four- and six-year marks set all-time UNM records, and the latest Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) Top University rankings, which examines how well universities drive diversity while enhancing employability, placed UNM at No. 74 on its list of more than 350 U.S. institutions, up more than 75 positions from last year, and the only university in the state in the Top 100.
UNM’s number of degrees granted has declined, a direct reflection of the decline in enrollment. As to the assertion no degrees were granted in “early childhood and multicultural education,” UNM does not offer such a degree. UNM has graduated 86 students over the last three years in Family and Child Studies, which includes licensure in early childhood multicultural education. With pay for these teachers averaging under $12 per hour and challenging working conditions, we face headwinds in attracting enrollment, as we do in K-12 education.
Another area of critical public need is nursing, where we are having increasing success and President Garnett Stokes and College of Nursing Dean Christine Kasper have committed to an ambitious expansion.
UNM’s tuition and fee schedule is too complex, a problem we are committed to fixing. Overall, undergraduate student tuition increased by 2.6% (for) most full-time students. That figure does not include some 7,000 students at branch campuses who received no increase, nor medical students whose tuition actually decreased.
While we face legitimate challenges, there are many notable endeavors that enhance the quality of life and prosperity of New Mexico. For instance, ECHO Institute was awarded a $237 million grant to promote best practices to suppress COVID-19 at nursing homes nationwide, and UNM’s Center for Quantum Information and Control was selected by the U.S. Department of Energy for a five-year, $115 million project. Finally, Lobo Athletics secured a record six Mountain West titles this semester while achieving the conference’s highest GPA.
While UNM does have quite a few laurels, we are not resting on them. We must continue to do better, and we will.