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UNM’s Hispanic student retention up

retentionFOR THE RECORD: This story incorrectly reported that a University of New Mexico student who had decided not to return for her sophomore year registered for a full load of classes after a UNM student representative called her. Instead, she is taking several classes and intends to become a full-time student. The error was due to incorrect information provided to the Journal.

The college student said her 87-mile commute from Española to the University of New Mexico’s main campus was too much to handle, and she planned to work full time instead of going back to school.

But she changed her mind after talking to Weston Mathis, a UNM junior who had called over the summer to check on why she hadn’t registered for her sophomore year. Mathis suggested she try online classes, and she is now signed up for a full schedule of the classes.

Such efforts are helping to boost UNM’s retention efforts, officials say.

The school’s retention of Hispanic students who return as sophomores is at an all-time high this year, reaching 80.1 percent, UNM spokeswoman Dianne Anderson said.

It had been as low as 74.4 percent in 2011 but has climbed each year since.

Overall, UNM’s student retention rate improved this year to 79.1 percent from 77.7 percent the year before. It has been climbing steadily since a 10-year-low of 74.1 percent in 2011.

Terry Babbitt, UNM associate vice-president for enrollment management, said the university pays close attention to students entering their third semester because that is a time when students are most likely to drop out.

Although the university’s turnaround in retention rates was already under way, it was helped this summer by the phone-calling efforts of Mathis, sophomore Desiree Desvigne and Corine Gonzales, UNM strategic support manager.

The trio would call and help students who had a problem threatening to push them out of college, and – whether it was about money, transportation, or family or social issues – they would try to find help for the students, Gonzales said.

Mathis and Desvigne were particularly successful at helping students because they could relate to many of the problems their peers were facing, Babbitt said.

“These peer students reach out to students and figure out their personal situation,” Babbitt told UNM’s regents during their meeting Friday.

Desvigne agreed. She said her role as a student often put other students and their parents at ease, whether she was helping them sign up for classes, straightening out their financial aid or just talking about life on campus.

“It’s good to get that information from a student,” Desvigne said.