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New Mexico school braces for $10M hit as enrollment declines

October 22, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — New Mexico’s flagship university could face as much as a $10 million hit to its budget this year as fewer students are enrolling, leaving the University of New Mexico with less revenue from tuition and fees.

University President Garnett Stokes issued the warning as she was questioned by a panel of lawmakers during a meeting last week on the Albuquerque campus. The lawmakers asked about any plans by the university to raise tuition and talked about the inability of a statewide scholarship program fueled by lottery ticket sales to meet students’ needs.

Stokes acknowledged the university had predicting a drop in enrollment this year but said it was more substantial than expected.

Overall enrollment has declined about 7 percent from the 2017 fall semester, according to numbers released by the university. The largest drops came among new freshman and undergraduate transfers from other New Mexico schools.

Numerous factors — from growing competition for students and a recovering job market to concerns about campus safety — are blamed for the University of New Mexico’s shrinking enrollment rolls. However, many colleges around the state have also seen their numbers drop.

Overall, total enrollment fell this fall at all four-year colleges and universities with Western New Mexico University as the lone exception. New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University had increases in their freshman classes but saw drops in some other categories.

The University of New Mexico has tried to manage the fiscal consequences of dropping enrollment and dwindling state funding through what Stokes described as “tremendous cuts” and small increases in tuition. The university recently cut four sports teams, including the popular men’s soccer program, as part of an effort to rein in spending.

“I do think it’s absolutely critical that we continue to work to remain affordable,” Stokes told legislators last Thursday. “Our tuition and fees, in terms of a national perspective, continue to be very low but we also are in a state where economics are important and there are many who can’t afford to get into higher education.”

Stokes has asked university officials to look carefully at the school’s scholarship opportunities in additional to researching the challenges related to attracting and keeping students. She said it’s too early to say what the university’s plan for tuition and boosting enrollment next year will look like.

“My highest priority is to turn around our enrollment situation. It has direct implications for our budget,” she said.

With a surge in income linked to an oil boom, New Mexico lawmakers will have extra money to work with as they craft the state’s next annual budget. Some supporters are hopeful that the lottery scholarship program can once again be fully funded.

Democratic Rep. Antonio “Moe” Maestas of Albuquerque said during the meeting that the budget surplus could provide an opportunity for lawmakers to look at other options for funding the scholarships rather than lottery ticket sales. He voiced concerns about tying the financial aid to what he called a “regressive tax.”

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