The numbers game
NMJC, USW report fall ’23 enrollment numbers
The numbers are in and Hobbs’ two institutions of higher learning are going strong.
University of the Southwest reported a 3 percent increase in total credits being sought by students across all departments earlier this week compared to last year, President Ryan Tipton told the News-Sun. And the university is on track for a roughly 20 percent projected enrollment increase this academic year, he said.
And, while enrollment declined slightly at New Mexico Junior College this year compared to last year, President Derek Moore said those numbers are somewhat deceiving.
NMJC students are earning more credit hours — about 140 credit hours enrolled this fall — despite the fact there are fewer students enrolled in the school.
NMJC enrolled 2,228 students for the first semester, according to October 2022 data provided by college Registrar Joseph Flotte. There are 2,116 students currently enrolled for fall semester at NMJC, a decrease from last year of 112 students.
“That’s the enrollment head count,” Moore said. “But total student credit hours increased by .7 percent.
That’s a good thing.
“Even though the number as far as student head count has decreased, we have fewer students but they’re taking more hours. What happens is that’s going to decrease the amount of time per student from start to finish.”
USW offers a hybrid of on-line and in-person undergraduate and graduate degree programs from its campus in Hobbs.
For the first time in a while, the greatest growth area at the college was undergraduate students opting to attend classes in person, up about 20 percent, Tipton said.
Currently the USW campus is home to about 293 students, he said.
Last year at that time there were 250 students living and learning there. And the greater number of those this year for the first time are transfer students from other colleges, displacing first-time freshmen straight out of high school in the top spot.
“That’s something we’re seeing as a trend,” Tipton said. Transfer students “are earning dual credit, going to community college for a year or two, then coming to a university. It makes sense for them to do so.”
Across the road at NMJC, full-time enrollment increased by 7.5 percent, or 70 students, over last fall.
More credit hours being enrolled and more students opting for full-time classes means they will get through their first two years of college quicker, Moore said.
While the Opportunity Scholarships influenced school enrollment, particularly at four-year institutions, it’s been a mixed blessing for the state’s community and junior colleges, Moore said.
And it doesn’t benefit the handful of private schools in the state, including USW, who’s students don’t qualify for the free educational opportunities offered, Tipton said.
Students for whom a four-year degree might have been out of reach before took advantage of the lower cost options offered by community or junior colleges, Moore said. With money not being a concern, though, a four-year degree immediately becomes more attractive — and more reachable — he said.
“The aspiration to attend a four-year school and their finances may not have been there,” Moore said. “But now it does line up to where they can go straight from high school to a four-year college.”
Both schools are also finding more non-traditional students — people who’ve went into the workforce for a time after high school or even some college coursework — than before, Moore and Tipton said.
More students opting for the degree tracks at USW each year are coming back to school after a time away.
And at USW specifically, an even greater number — a demographic that’s increasing steadily, Tipton said —is transfer students coming from two-year programs or with dual-credit experience or even associates degrees earned in high school wanting to complete their bachelor’s degree track.
And a significant number of people taking advantage of programs at NMJC aren’t enrolling in so-called “credit-bearing classes,” the more traditional route to an associate’s degree and beyond, Moore said.
They are attending usually single classes with a specific focus through the NMJC Workforce Development programs.
Last year, for example, Workforce Development provided 44,821 “contact hours” with students, Moore said.
This year that increased to 50,635 hours of contact with Workforce Development students.
“That’s attributed to (NMJC) being responsive to local industry’s needs,” he said. “If they need worker training we want to be responsive to those needs.”
The local numbers are more or less in line with trends across the state, according to data from the New Mexico Higher Education showing increased college enrollment at most institutions.
Statewide, college enrollment in New Mexico increased 2.3 percent this fall as the so-called Opportunity Scholarship providing free in-state college tuition to New Mexico students attending New Mexico schools.
Since the Opportunity Scholarships went into effect last year an additional 6,700 students enrolled in New Mexico public and tribal colleges and universities, the release said.
Prior to the scholarship, college enrollments in New Mexico, and across the country, were declining.
“While the rest of the country grapples with questions about college affordability and access … New Mexico stands apart as a state dedicated to opportunity,” acting Higher Education Secretary Patricia Trujillo was quoted in the release. “Every student walking through the doors of our college and university campuses (now) hold the key to our state’s future.”