The University of New Mexico is poised to hit record highs in its third semester retention, four-year and six-year graduation rates this fall, as the university continues to make significant progress toward the key goals outlined by Gov. Susana Martinez this week at her Summit on Higher Education.
The governor cited several strategies as she challenged the state’s universities to form a cohesive higher education system that works effectively to graduate students in four years and ensure that students are academically fit to enter college. Over the past few years, UNM has implemented a number of initiatives that align with her recommendations and is already seeing strong improvements in many areas including persistence and completion rates.
“We reviewed all the programs we’ve put in place to increase student success and looked at how they line up with what the Governor requested,” President Robert G. Frank said. “After that evaluation, we found that UNM is way ahead and deserves an ‘A’ on that progress report.”
In 2013, the regents restructured the traditional block tuition/fee model to make it less expensive to take 15 credit hours or more. It was designed to be an incentive for students to graduate sooner and reduce the overall cost of their education. The immediate result was a 17 percent increase in students taking at least 15 hours a semester. This fall, undergraduates taking that credit load have increased by 8 percent compared to Fall 2014. UNM’s four-year graduation rate is now close to 20 percent while the six-year grad rate is nearing 50 percent.
“President Frank has emphasized student success since his first day on the job, and thanks to that focus, we were able to increase the four-year graduation rate from14 to more than 19 percent and the six-year rates from 44 to more than 49 percent,” Provost Chaouki Abdallah said. “What is less obvious, however, is that these improvements were made at a time of record entering classes leading to an actual increase of nearly 10 percent in the number of degrees awarded.”
In addition to the revamped tuition model, the regents recently added another incentive. The new “Aim to Achieve” initiative will allow students who complete college in four years to pay no tuition for their final semester.
“We reviewed all the programs we’ve put in place to increase student success and looked at how they line up with what the Governor requested. After that evaluation, we found that UNM is way ahead and deserves an ‘A’ on that progress report.” – UNM President Robert G. Frank
UNM is continuing to move toward 120 credit hour bachelor’s degrees, another strategy pushed by the governor. Since the Faculty Senate approved the move in 2013-14 academic year, all UNM schools and colleges have rigorously reviewed their ability to meet the reduced hour minimum with 43 now offering students the ability to get their degree in 120 hours with another dozen programs within a few hours of that goal. To see the strides that UNM programs have made toward 120 hour degrees, check out this chart.
Offering better advisement, closely monitoring academic progress and encouraging students to choose a field of study early in their college career are among the other recommendations from the governor. UNM has completely restructured how we advise our freshman. Instead of all freshmen going into the general advisement under University College, now students who come with an intended major are advised under that academic unit to get more specific counseling pertinent to their field of study.
In addition, UNM debuted new degree-mapping and degree audit programs to help students navigate more directly through their path to graduation and generate alerts if they are getting off track or taking classes that don’t count toward their degree (http://degrees.unm.edu). The university also developed an underlying technical infrastructure that allows deans, chairs and advisors to track how well students are following that degree path.
Gov. Martinez also emphasized that universities statewide should adopt a common curriculum for specific degrees, something that UNM has been working toward with Central New Mexico Community College and other institutions by establishing 2+2 pathways for all STEM programs and other degrees.