University of New Mexico student Madelyn Lucas has been a New Student Orientation (NSO) leader for two years. During the last two summers, Lucas would get to main campus early Monday morning and chauffeur dozens of incoming students around UNM until Thursday evening.
Lucas said she hasn’t noticed a decline in the hundred or so incoming students she has worked within her two years as an NSO leader; however, in her other job as a student leader of the undergraduate student government, she grapples with it every day.
Since the fall semester of 2012, student enrollment has plummeted by one-fifth (21.68%), according to data from UNM’s Office of Institutional Analytics (OIA). The decline is in response to national trends and campus events, according to Provost James Holloway — which has led to budget shortages, departmental scale back and a drastic shift in life for all UNM community members.
"That’s significant," Holloway said. "That’s a challenge we’ll have to work on."
Holloway started at the University in July 2019 but said he was aware of it even before he started as provost. His previous school, the University of Michigan, had stable enrollment trending upward, according to Holloway. Still, he said that enrollment is at the forefront of his mind and his office.
A large whiteboard in his office used to have "it’s all about enrollment, stupid" written across it. Holloway said he wanted to remind himself and everyone who came through his office about how to import he believes enrollment is.
"Enrollment is important first because it’s how we deliver on our mission, and so if we're going to educate the next generation of leaders and contributors to our society we need to get them here. We need to show them the value of UNM as a place to study and learn," Holloway said.
The number of credit hours undergraduate students are taking dropped by 20.37% over the past five years, according to the 2019 Official Enrollment Report, an annual report created by UNM OIA. The most significant decreases came from the College of Arts and Sciences at 26.80% and the College of Education with a 28.57% drop from fall 2015 to fall 2019.
According to the report, 18,671 of the 22,792 students who attended UNM during the fall 2019 semester came from New Mexico. The second-largest group of students came from the American Southwest — 561 students from California, 404 from Texas, 266 from Colorado and 221 from Arizona.
Dan Garcia, the vice president of enrollment, said the University is reaching out to "academically qualified" students across the nation who take the ACT and SAT tests and promoting them to come to UNM.
"The commitment that we make is that we’re never going to displace a New Mexico resident," Garcia said. "We’re only going to give opportunities as space is available to out-of-state students, but it’s going to improve the quality of the educational experience for some of our New Mexico residents who just haven't had an opportunity to interact with people from across the nation or the globe."
Mark Peceny, the dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, the largest undergraduate college at UNM, has been a faculty member since 1992 and a dean since 2011. Peceny said he has noticed different reactions among different departments within the college — the Department of Criminology especially benefiting from this decline in class size.
"We haven't had enough faculty people focused on Criminology to keep the class sizes down. Now there are less people in the courses, and now they provide a better quality experience and spend more time individually on students," Peceny said.
Ryan Linquist, director of Student Activities at UNM, said he has seen about an $86,000 reduction in the last ten years in funding for student clubs. This funding primarily provides food for events.
"It just means we have to hand off and find assistance with most of our events. Some of those daytime events we’ve had to cut because we just don’t have the budget for those things to come in, so we’ve had to get more creative," Linquist said.
What’s being done
There are a number of things the University can do to help increase its enrollment, according to Garcia. One thing the University is doing, according to Garcia, is changing some of its most basic messages to students who qualify to come to UNM.
The Office of Enrollment has also partnered with several colleges and schools throughout the University to develop messages specific to students’ areas of interest.
"We send out messages to students who indicate on their interest form or that when they took the SAT or ACT that they were interested in engineering, that we have engineering programs," Garcia said. "In fact, the message comes from folks in that college directly to the student with their name, so they can build and make those contacts early on."
Peceny said there are steps the College of Arts and Sciences is taking to help increase enrollment by hiring a recruitment specialist.
"I personally have become more engaged in recruitment than I ever have been. I’ve gone out to visit a number of schools, high schools, and talked to classes," Peceny said.
Thomas Martinez, a junior majoring in political science, said he has already noticed how declining enrollment could affect the budget when it comes to increasing tuition to cover the lack of funding for certain programs.
"There might be some costs that we will literally have to pay, and then if it gets really bad then we are going to lose programs," Martinez said. He added what he thought might need to happen to increase enrollment.
"It's going to take a lot of collaboration from the Board of Directors, the President, maybe ASUNM to probably get more of the word out there," Martinez finished.
Amanda Britt is the photo editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AmandaBritt__
Bianca Hoops is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @bianca_hoops