More students are enrolling at UNM, but tuition hikes mean fewer students are staying.

UNM’s undergraduate enrollment grew 4.5 percent the last year, according to the Office of Institutional Research. But its retention rates dropped from about 92 percent in 2010 to 88 percent in 2011.

Wynn Goering, vice provost for Academic Affairs, said that the average retention rate in pre-recession years was about 89 percent, but he couldn’t account for the most recent drop.

“It’s harder to know for sure whether this return to a more typical level means the economy is returning to normal,” he said. “One thing I can say is that we didn’t see any other patterns to account for the drop.”

Because of the economic downturn, more people are choosing to go to school, said Terry Babbitt, associate vice president of Enrollment Management.

“When the economy, and more specifically the job market, is
contracting, higher education has always been a good option for those directly impacted,” he said.

For those that choose school over competing for a job, they have had to contend with rising in-state tuition and fees, which jumped from $1,584 in fall 2002 to $2,752 in spring 2011.Tuition will rise another 5.5 percent in the 2011-12.

The Office of Institutional Research reports that more than 50 percent of UNM’s undergraduates are receiving the New Mexico Lottery or Bridge to Success scholarships, which help defray costs for incoming freshmen who graduated from a New Mexico high school.

“I really didn’t want UNM to raise fees and tuition again next fall, but it doesn’t affect me too much because I have the Lottery,” student James Aragon said.

That, however, doesn’t account for non-residents who pay three times as much as residents and are ineligible for state-sponsored scholarships.

Out-of-state student Ryan Smith said the rapid increase in costs of attendance is forcing him to leave UNM.

“It’s just becoming too expensive,” he said. “I came here because UNM is supposed to be a bargain. That may have been true four years ago, but they’ve raised prices year after year and I am headed back to Texas. I am not paying $10,000 next year to go to a college that is average at best.”

By comparison CNM, which has kept its tuition stable, boasts more undergraduates than any state college, and its student growth the last five years amounts to a 31 percent increase, CNM spokesman Brad Moore said. CNM’s full-time charge is $591, 75 percent less than what UNM charges.

Goering said retention and enrollment rates are related.
“It’s a safe assumption that both our enrollment and retention increases for the past couple of years have been fueled by the recession,” he said. “That is, when jobs are scare students are more likely to stay in school.”