By Bill Knief
The numbers are in for the Fall semester, and despite dwindling resources in this period of recession, they are strong, particularly in the all-important head count, which determines our level of funding. For the first time in UNM-Taos history, there are more than 1,500 regular students signed up. Executive Director Dr. Kate O’Neill elaborated:
“We are now at 1,523 head count for Fall, 2009. That’s a 7.5 percent increase over last fall. Over the past five years, that’s about a 16.5 percent increase. But the head count is only part of the story. In terms of student credit hours, which is essentially how many classes students signed up for, that stands at almost 12,000—a full 16 percent over last year alone, or 35 percent over five years. What that translates into is that we have 512 full time students this fall. That’s the most we’ve ever had, it is up 16 percent since last year alone, and—hold on to your seat—it’s an 84 percent increase of full time students over five years.”
A significant increase in full time students combined with an overall rise in enrollment adds up to a clear indicator of the overall seriousness of students’ commitment to education. Enrolling in a full slate of classes implies that students are setting their sites on a certificate, associate degree, bachelor or graduate program. Perhaps they are laying the groundwork to go to the state university, or maybe they are obtaining the skills, credentials and knowledge they need to advance in their chosen profession or make a career change.
“So the big news is that we not only have more full time students, we also have an increase in younger students—the more traditional college age students,” O’Neill continued. “The average age is still around 33 because we have large numbers of lifelong learners, but if you look at the median age, it’s in the twenties, because we are seeing those students right out of high school in greater numbers than we’ve ever had before.”
Since the beginning, UNM-Taos has had more female students than males, but there is a shift here as well. This Fall male students were up about 11 percent over last year. Although there are still fewer males than females attending UNMN-Taos, over a five year period their numbers have increased by 42 percent. The Native American student population is up 19 percent over last fall, which O’Neill attributes to advising, enrollment and orientation sessions at the Pueblo, and the Hispanic population is up 22 percent over the past five years, and up 5 percent since last year.
“Another interesting fact in terms of demographic data is that we have 490 Taos County students registered for classes at UNM in Albuquerque, including 55 freshmen who started this semester,” O’Neill pointed out. “Taos County has quite a connection with UNM. We are in the top seven counties statewide in terms of sending people to main campus. And I think part of that is because of the good experience people have with the branch here.”
In a year when funding for UNM-Taos has dropped an alarming 15.5 percent, these positive figures are difficult to sustain.
“I think what folks will notice is that we have fewer classes, and the classes we do have, especially those core courses in Math, English and Sociology, have a larger number of students in them. But I think you’ll find we are still very accessible. You can go to main campus and take an introductory psychology class with 800 students in it, and here we have 35. So it’s all relative.”
In January the new 18,000 square foot classroom building opens, and the Enrollment Office is already planning for a registration drive beginning right after Thanksgiving with more emphasis on online registration, in order to accommodate the higher demand for higher education.