The University of New Mexico’s investment in student success is paying off with a record number of graduates this spring and a continued climb in the graduation rates for students completing degrees in four years and in six years.
During commencement ceremonies at UNM, thousands of students received their diplomas and now take the next steps toward a career or continued education. More than 3,900 students* are projected to receive degrees in Spring 2017 including 361Doctoral, 610 Master’s, 2,731 Bachelor's and 260 Associate's.
Many of this year’s undergraduates are getting out of college faster than the cohorts who came before them. For the sixth year in a row, UNM has topped its previous four-year graduation rate. The number of students completing their degree in four years has increased from 15 percent in 2010-11 to an anticipated 26 percent in 2016-17, a jump of 66 percent over this time period. This spring’s six-year graduation rate will be near an all-time high at just under 50 percent.
“The strategic investments we made five years ago are starting to come to fruition,” Acting President Chaouki Abdallah said. “It takes four years to change the four-year graduation rate; it takes five years to change the five-year rate, and so forth, but we are continuing to move the needle each year to new record highs.”
At the beginning of this decade, the University started studying ways to improve retention rates. At the time, UNM was losing about a quarter of its freshman class going into their third semester of college - a 75 percent retention rate. More than 200 faculty, staff and students volunteered for a self-study of the first college year experience at UNM. The Foundations of Excellence project began in September 2012, in collaboration with the John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education.
Following that comprehensive review, the University instituted a number of changes involving academics, student support and research as it impacts freshmen in particular.
UNM administrators believe the gains now being shown in student success outcomes stem from a combination of initiatives, many driven by the Foundations of Excellence project. Those changes included increasing the number of high-impact practices for freshman, instituting special programs aimed at improving retention and graduation rates such as incentives to finish college in four years and reforming developmental and introductory courses, advising and curriculum.
UNM allocated $2.3 million in recurring costs for student success programs and spent approximately $1.3 million in one-time funding to renovate space for the new Math Learning Lab (MaLL). Another $5.8 million was focused on faculty initiatives and $1.4 million on student recruitment efforts.
“What is most notable is that while we have allocated some additional funding, we have also reallocated and emphasized completion of degrees,” Abdallah said. “It’s a much bigger win for students if the investment comes from efficiency, retention of students and reallocated money, not just additional funding.”
While the changes have not been cheap, they are an important investment, not only for the university and its students, but for the state of New Mexico.
‘‘What people don’t see is the number of degrees is going up, the time to degree is shrinking, so that means students are spending less, the state is spending less per that degree, and those people are going into the job market sooner, meaning if the graduates stay in the state, they pay taxes, they’re generating revenue and opportunities,” Abdallah said.
The key number is the financial impact of graduating students sooner. Abdallah said the increase in the four-year graduation rate saves 360 students to a minimum of $2-4-million every year UNM maintains that higher number, and saves another 150 students an additional $1-2 million every year the six-year rate stays close to 50 percent.