New Mexico State University is experiencing its largest increase in freshman enrollment since before 2000, but overall enrollment is still down from the start of the decade.
The university reported that first-year freshman enrollment is up over 11 percent from this time last year, even with changes in campus admission policies. Total enrollment has declined 13 percent since Garrey Carruthers became NMSU Chancellor in 2013.
Several people on the NMSU campus attribute this year’s dramatic increase in applications, admissions and enrollment to aggressive marketing and recruiting.
“We immediately started targeting El Paso,” said NMSU Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Dacia Sedillo. “I wanted banners up in the malls over there, and we put 12 billboards up around town. We were really saturating that market because I figured there was some possible growth there.”
Sedillo said that applications from El Paso have doubled and that over 300 first-year freshman are from the El Paso area.
This year’s freshman class at NMSU is not only larger, it also has a higher average academic index. According to Sedillo, the freshman class’ academic index, which is based on a combination of high school grade point average and ACT score, is higher than the last freshman class by 13 points. In 2016, NMSU changed the admission requirements so that students must have either a 2.75 GPA or an ACT score of 21.
“I think campus feels a little different this fall,” Sedillo said. “It’s a different group of students we attracted.”
Part of the reason different students may have been attracted to NMSU could be because this fall also marks the first semester freshman students are required to live on campus. Director of Housing Matt Crouse said there are about 330 more first-year freshmen living on campus than last year. While the increase in students living on campus is “exciting,” Crouse said, “ultimately the goal is to keep more students from year one to year two.”
Crouse said that students who live on campus are more likely to stay enrolled, which helps the university’s retention numbers. According to Crouse, this is important because state funding is now tied to a university’s retention rate, not solely its enrollment.
Crouse believes that living on campus gives students a sense of belonging, which could help to keep students working toward their degrees.
“Most students drop out of New Mexico State, not because they’re academically incapable,” Crouse said, “but because they don’t have a sense of connection to (the campus).”
Not all freshman students are required to live on campus, however. Over 800 first-year students were exempted from the first year on-campus residency requirement. Out of those students, 89 percent of the exemptions were approved for students who live with a parent or guardian. Other exemptions were granted for freshman students who are military veterans, married, raising children, or over age 21. Crouse said that some funding was set aside for students who could prove that living on campus for the first year could cause extreme financial hardship.
President of the NMSU Residence Hall Association Lawrence Hittle sat on the committee that reviewed applications from students who wanted to be exempted from the on-campus housing requirement. He said that most of the decisions were made unanimously.
“Overall, I think the campus community is very positive, very engaged and very active,” Hittle said. He reported an increase of over 250 percent in the attendance of RHA meetings this semester compared to last year, and said the campus residency requirement for freshman is definitely the main cause.
The enrollment boost is good news for NMSU, which has seen declining enrollment over the past several years. While the increase is a good start, the rapid growth seen this semester may not be sustainable.
Sedillo said that while she is thrilled with the increase in enrollment this year, she is “a bit leery going into next year” because some people’s expectations are now “a little higher than I would like them to be.”
She said that NMSU recruiters are already working full time on recruiting high school seniors for next year. Although this academic year just started a couple weeks ago, NMSU has already processed applications and admitted students for the fall 2018 semester.