Higher Education Department calls for plans to address enrollment and student success

Stephanie Montoya
State collaborates with colleges and universities to adapt to population changes and economic needs 

The New Mexico Higher Education Department is asking public colleges and universities in the state to submit detailed plans aimed at improving enrollment, retention, and graduation across New Mexico. 

The plans must include specific and quantifiable performance goals to recruit and retain students and increase graduation efforts through a commitment of services, courses, and programs that support student success. The distribution of $6.4 million of new state funding allocated to public colleges and universities is contingent upon approval of the plans by the New Mexico Higher Education Department and the Legislative Finance Committee. Strategic enrollment plans from colleges and universities are due by June 15, 2022. 

“Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration established programs like the Opportunity Scholarship and committed funding to address student hunger and behavioral health, but we know that we can do more to adapt higher education to the diverse needs of today’s New Mexicans and our economy,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez said. “We are providing guidance that will lead to a solutions-oriented approach and greater statewide collaboration while also recognizing the unique missions and populations our colleges and universities serve.”  

Guidance provided by the agency calls for colleges and universities to provide historical data about enrollment and analyze trends that can inform strategies for admitting and keeping students from a variety of populations – including dual-credit students, non-traditional students, transfer students, and graduates of adult education programs – in college. Schools must also outline detailed strategies for engaging prospective and returning students, such as how they work directly with local high schools and reach out to non-traditional students. 

In addition to recruiting students, colleges and universities must also demonstrate how they plan to help students reach graduation day. Examples include academic supports like tutoring and mentoring programs and student wellbeing initiatives, such as student food pantries and mental health services. Over the past ten years, the number of undergraduate certificates awarded by New Mexico colleges and universities increased by more than 500 percent and associate degrees grew by 135 percent. The number of bachelor’s degrees awarded grew by nearly 50% and the number of graduate certificates and degrees grew by almost 40 percent.  

“Research shows that tuition-free college programs are especially effective for historically marginalized students, producing a 22% average increase in enrollment when the message is communicated effectively. That’s because high school juniors who think they can’t afford to go to college are about 20 percent less likely to attend than their peers who don’t believe affordability is a barrier,” said Morley Winograd, CEO of the Campaign for Tuition Free College. “Governor Lujan Grisham’s administration should be commended for focusing on student support services and making prospective students an offer they can’t refuse — Go to College. It’s Tuition Free.”   

Over the past ten years, New Mexico has added over 10,000 new jobs with an average salary of $90,000, most of which require some level of training beyond high school. Meeting economic and workforce needs means a higher need for skilled workers statewide, especially in high-need fields such as healthcare, education, and STEM. Gov. Lujan Grisham has committed over $12 million for targeted workforce scholarship programs for nurses and teachers and more than $15 million toward initiatives supporting student success on college campuses.  

While higher education enrollment has fallen nationwide, the declines in New Mexico demonstrate unique population changes and the impact of higher education costs on college-going rates. Declining birth rates have resulted in a smaller pool of recruits among recent high school graduates, and an increase in working adult learners means fewer full-time students. The average age of a college student in New Mexico is 26 and over 40 percent of students attend part-time due to work, family obligations, and other factors.   

Rising college costs have also contributed to enrollment declines. When funding for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship fell below 100 percent of average tuition in 2016, higher education enrollment also declined. Last year, Gov. Lujan Grisham restored the Lottery Scholarship to again cover full tuition for the first time in six years. The program benefits recent high school graduates who enroll full time at any New Mexico public college or university.  

The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship is the first program in state history to provide tuition-free college to returning adult learners and also benefits part-time students, students pursuing career training certificates, and those who want to attend school year-round. A 2020 study by the American Educational Research Association found a link between college promise scholarship programs, especially among female and underrepresented students. While not as encompassing as New Mexico’s Opportunity Scholarship, Nevada, Oregon, and Tennessee have seen enrollment increases after implementing similar programs. More than 30,000 students are expected to benefit from the Opportunity Scholarship starting this fall. 

Visit ReachHigherNM.com to learn more about the New Mexico Opportunity and Lottery Scholarships.