Published: 1:42 pm, Wed. Sep. 6th, 2017Updated: 1:41 pm
Higher education in New Mexico faces declining enrollment amid budget cuts and searches for new college presidents, according to an analysis by The Santa Fe New Mexican.
The analysis found that five of the seven research and comprehensive universities and colleges in New Mexico have experienced shrinking enrollment from 2012 to 2016.
Declines over the five-year period range from 3.6 percent at Western New Mexico University in Silver City to nearly 40 percent at Northern New Mexico College in Espanola.
Educators and others point to several factors behind the enrollment drop, including reduced revenues from New Mexico’s lottery scholarship program and a decline in the number of high school graduates. Others cite the state’s struggling economy.
Only Eastern New Mexico University and the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology saw enrollment increases.
New Mexico Higher Education Department spokeswoman Lida Alikhani said fluctuations in enrollment are part of a national trend and are closely tied to the economy.
“We’re continuing to see encouraging economic news in New Mexico, and that is undoubtedly having an impact,” Alikhani said in an email. “The better question is how will our universities respond? Clearly, adjustments will have to be made, and those aren’t always easy.”
Earlier this year, the New Mexico State University regents raised tuition by about 6 percent. Officials say the increase was used for “student outcomes,” such as scholarships and student advising.
Enrollment declined by nearly 14 percent under Garrey Carruthers, the former New Mexico governor who was named NMSU president and chancellor in 2013. Regents decided last week not to renew his contract.
The university did see an 11.3 percent increase in first-time freshmen this year, the largest increase in 17 years.
NMSU Board of Regents Chairwoman Debra Hicks, in response to the university promoting the first-time freshmen numbers, said those figures “didn’t really talk about enrollment” overall.
“First-time freshmen is not the same thing as enrollment,” she said, adding that the university’s target is 18,000 students. In the fall of 2016, enrollment at NMSU was 14,852 students.
“We’re losing state funds, and we’re losing tuition from enrollment,” Hicks said.
Enrollment numbers for this fall are not yet available.
At the University of Texas at El Paso, which New Mexico State University considers a peer institution, enrollment has been on the rise for 18 consecutive years and increased more than 5 percent from 2012 to 2016.