Despite declining enrollment, University of New Mexico students earned an all-time record number of degrees last academic year.
In all, UNM awarded 5,674 degrees – up from 5,489 the 2014-15 school year.
And while UNM had no exact graduation figures, the school’s four-year graduation rate last year was on track to exceed 20 percent for the first time in years, according to Provost Chauki Abdallah, who presented the numbers during his report to a UNM Board of Regents committee on Thursday afternoon.
He cited several factors for the increased degree numbers: reducing the number of credits needed to earn a degree, increasing student support services and having a more engaged faculty.
“Think of the academic path as a pipe with holes in it that leak water,” Abdallah said. “In order to move more water to the end of the pipe, you can start with more water and/or plug the holes. All of our interventions within UNM have focused on plugging the various holes that have led to students dropping out.”
Administrators have trimmed the number of credit hours required to earn most bachelor degrees from 128 to 120. And administrators scrapped the old remedial class model in 2015 for a new one that integrates students more quickly into regular classes.
They also use data to focus resources where they are most needed. There were 3,707 bachelor degrees awarded in the past academic year, up from 3,666 degrees awarded in the 2014-15 school year and slightly down from the 3,736 awarded in the 2013-14 school year.
Master’s and doctorate degrees reached record numbers at 1,362 and 292 degrees, respectively, driving up the total number. Last year, graduates earned 1,266 master’s degrees, and doctoral students earned 222 degrees.
Professional degrees – law and medical degrees – went from 335 degrees two years ago to 313 degrees last year.
At the same meeting, but in a different presentation, Terry Babbitt, a UNM administrator who tracks enrollment, estimated the student population for the current fall semester at 27,150 students – 200 fewer than last year.
“The target was about 100 more than that,” Babbitt said. “We’re not cheering the numbers. The climate around the state is still very volatile. We’re not recovered from trying to stabilize enrollments from really high recession gains.”
Overall, enrollment is down among underclassmen and mostly the same for graduate students. Babbitt also said there were fewer non-traditional students this year.
But there were increases in the incoming freshman class and the Anderson Graduate School of Management, which he called positive signs for future enrollment.
UNM is expected to have final fall enrollment numbers a week from today.
Student enrollment at UNM’s main campus has been declining steadily since 2012.
Enrollment is a main revenue source for the university, and the enrollment shrinkage comes at a time when state funding for the university may decrease as the state’s budget woes continue.
“The revenue is not going to be found from this area without us doing different things,” Babbitt said.