The University of New Mexico’s graduation rate is headed in the right direction thanks to a concerted effort by the UNM administration to break a cycle that four years ago graduated only one or two out of 10 students in four years and had a six-year rate of 45.2 percent.
In 2011, UNM’s four-year graduation rate was 15 percent. It’s now 19.2 percent, an increase of 28 percent. While that’s still well below the national average of about 40 percent, it’s an improvement. And the six-year rate has improved to 49 percent, an increase of about 8 percent. The national six-year rate was about 59 percent for students who first enrolled in 2007.
A slow pace is costly to both students and taxpayers. The cost to a student for a bachelor’s degree that was taking six years to earn was about $95,000, including lost pay. A degree earned in four years was costing $27,000 for tuition and fees, but not including living expenses. At the same time the university was spending nearly $90,000 on each student who earned a degree in six years compared to about $50,000 for those earning it in four. Now the school’s overall cost per degree has dropped from about $90,000 to $70,000.
To help students attain a degree more quickly, UNM offered incentives: a tuition discount and the final semester free for those taking enough classes to stay on track for four-year graduation. Required credit hours for most bachelor’s degrees also were lowered from 128 to 120.
A faster graduation pace has been a major initiative of Gov. Susana Martinez and her higher education secretary, Barbara Damron.
Another big change was how the university handles students who need remedial help – about 40 percent at UNM’s main campus. UNM ditched remedial classes and instead puts students in self-paced computer courses overseen by tutors and faculty where they can learn incrementally to prepare for their degree courses.
And in an effort to stave off falling enrollment that impacts revenues and cost UNM a loss of $3.7 million in 2014, the university is embarking on an ambitious rebranding campaign to elevate its national profile and attract more students and donations. The four-year makeover will cost $1.98 million.
There is still a long way to go – and certainly receiving students who are better prepared by the state’s K-12 public education system would help – but this report card is good news for the university, its students and the taxpayers who support it.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.