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Enrollment increases at NMJC, USW

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Enrollment increases at NMJC, USW

Andy Brosig/News-Sun

University of the Southwest and New Mexico Junior College both have posted enrollment increases for the fall semester of the 2023-24 academic year.

USW has shown an overall 20 percent increase in student numbers on campus over the same time last year.

“Our retention rates are really high from last year,” USW President Ryan Tipton told the News-Sun on Tuesday. “We brought in about 125 new students this year, probably evenly split between transfers and (freshman) students.”

USW enrollment this year totals 1,182 students between undergraduate and graduate programs.

The school is hosting 372 undergraduate students with the greatest number, 297 students, in residence on campus, Tipton said.

There are another 668 students enrolled in Master’s Degree programs at USW this year and 142 doctoral students at the college.

“Our largest discipline area is the behavioral sciences group — our counseling students, mental health, school and psychology students,” Tipton said. “They make up about 45 percent of our student body. Behind that is business students, then education. And the hard sciences are kind of right in there together.”

Across the road, New Mexico Junior College had 2,103 students enrolled for fall terms as of Tuesday, said Cathy Mitchell, NMJC vice president of student services.

And that number is expected to continue to increase through early October, she said.

“We’re still enrolling for our second eight-weeks of classes,” Mitchell said. Enrollment “will continue to increase I’m guessing another 150 students, just a little bit above where we were last fall.”

Overall, NMJC expects an about 2 percent enrollment increase from the 2022-23 academic year, she said. Those numbers include dual-enrollment students from area high schools who receive college credit for select high school classes and, in some cases, do coursework along side freshmen and sophomores on the NMJC campus in Hobbs.

Mitchell said NMJC is host to 581 dual-credit students through high school partnerships and through reciprocal programs at the Career and Education Center Hobbs.

“With some of the classes they’re taking at CTECH, students also are getting credit here,” she said.

Junior colleges and community colleges nationwide are experiencing a slight resurgence in enrollment this fall, according to a report from the group Inside Higher Ed, which studies and tracks trends in higher education. That’s on the heels of sometimes steep declines in enrollment during the COVID-19 pandemic, the report found.

NMJC fared better than some of its counterparts around the nation during the pandemic, Mitchell said. She credited institutional efforts at student retention and recruiting at least in part with that stability.

“Our enrollment … kept pretty steady and we’re building it back up,” Mitchell said. “We’re putting a lot of effort into retaining the students we have, which affects our enrollment numbers.”

Students returning to campus this fall represent the largest enrollment increase for the 2023-24 school year at NMJC, she said.

And it’s a mix of students looking to finish off general education requirements before transferring to a four-year college to complete a degree and those students seeking associates degrees or certifications to enter or advance in the job market, she said.

“It’s really a combination of all of it, across the board,” Mitchell said. “We have a good number coming here to finish their general education and continue on to university. And we have a group who want to get their associates and help in their career.

“And we have the ones on the technical side who are looking to have a career path. They’re going into that as a terminal (educational path, either for a certificate or an associate of applied science degree.”
Despite what other institutions experienced during the pandemic, including NMJC, USW didn’t see a decline in enrollment, Tipton said. Rather the opposite, with steady enrollment increases of from 4 percent to 9 percent, even at the height of the pandemic shutdowns.

“But we do have a lot of online programs,” he said, noting that, of the almost 1,200 students enrolled this year, just 297 are actually studying on the Hobbs campus.

“We got really good at the online game about a decade ago,” Tipton said. “That’s been the driver for our growth, especially during the COVID years (when) a lot of institutions enrollment just tanked.”

Equally important, Mitchell and Tipton agreed, is institutions focusing on what their ultimate customers — the students — want out of education.

“… What we’re doing here is we’re trying to look at the students and see what their end-goal is, career choices, directions,” Mitchell said. “We can then identify what is the best path for them.”

Tipton agreed.

“What (enrollment numbers) really show is you need to vary your offerings, your offering mechanism,” he said. “Also your offering levels (for) a variety of different degrees because people want different things.

“That echoes the sentiment that education is meant to be available to all people at all times in any form they want to engage with. I think COVID forced institutions that had been doing it one way to realize we can do it multiple ways and reach a bigger audience.”

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