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President Bob Frank outlined on Nov. 20 strategies for combatting budget short falls.

President Bob Frank outlined on Nov. 20 strategies for combatting budget short falls.

High retention, graduation rates pose issues for UNM

UNM graduation rates are higher than ever, according to UNM President Bob Frank, but that has led to some struggles when it comes to the University’s finances.

During his report to the Board of Regents on Nov. 20, Frank said that the graduation rate at UNM for six-year students is at 49 percent, with the University also holding a 79.5 percent retention rate.

“We’re thrilled to have those, and we want to continue (our success),” he said.

But that sustained success depends on UNM’s ability to cope with what Frank called very substantial fiscal challenges that lie ahead.

Frank said issues the University faces include decreased enrollment and a continued desire to keep tuition as low as possible.

“The way we’ve done this is (by) trying to create a lot of dialogue and as many information points across the University as we can make,” Frank said.

Some of those lines of communication at UNM are between Frank and various deans of colleges, and between those deans and chairs and directors on campus to facilitate discussion and creation of an overall strategy.

“This is an ongoing dialogue, nowhere near done, but we continue to push it all the time,” he said.

One factor in the increasing graduation rates is the incentivizing of 120-credit-hour programs, leading to more students finishing their degrees in four years without having to carry the weight of extra classes.

Almost 80 percent of full-time UNM students are taking 15 credit hours this year, a number that has slowly been on the rise from 72.3 percent in 2014, 68.7 in 2013 and 59.1 in 2012.

Changes in eligibility requirements for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship – which raised the minimum credit hours load from 12 to 15 per year starting in 2014 – are also a factor in more students taking 15 credit hours.

That number is far higher than the national average. According to a 2013 study by, only 48 percent of full-time students nationally are taking 15 credit hours or more.

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Unfortunately, the uptick in students driven to graduate earlier has had consequences.

“It’s the right thing for the University, the right thing for New Mexico, not so good for our budget,” Frank said.

But there are possible solutions on the horizon, plans that UNM administration are working to bring to fruition to increase revenue while still keeping tuition as low as possible for students.

“Last spring we recognized that in this era of unpredictable enrollments we need to be very cautious,” Frank said.

To meet that end, the University withheld 5 percent of the expected budget for this school year to cushion the tuition shortfall that is a result of decreased enrollment and the record graduation rates, Frank said. But that is only the short-term phase in a plan to maximize University funds.

Long-term tactics include targeting potential students from outside the state, promoting UNM’s brand through a new marketing campaign and creating degree programs that are completely online-based.

“Each one of those has people working very hard on it,” Frank said.

In the short term, Frank said mandatory faculty promotions, rising utility fees and inflated health care costs are things will have to be accounted for via new revenue streams in next year’s budget, lest the University cut about $2 million from another area of its financials to compensate.

Frank said his administration hopes to have a preliminary model of that budget to present early in the spring. He said there are many University facets whose opinions are taken into consideration through meetings and town hall forums, including students, faculty and deans.

“There’s a lot of inputs in this process; these are necessary inputs for a university like ours, and they’re great inputs,” Frank said. “We want to continue the dialogue as we develop the budget and how we’re going to manage things in the very volatile times we’re in right now.”

David Lynch is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. Contact him at and on Twitter @RealDavidLynch.


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