More frosh at Luna - Highlands has 2 percent drop

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By Jen Treacy
For the Optic


Officials at both Luna Community College and New Mexico Highlands University are seeing mixed results when it comes to their fall enrollment numbers.

Enrollment at Highlands is up on the main campus but down at several of its centers. Total enrollment at Highlands is 3,659, a 2 percent drop from last fall.

Enrollment at Luna Community College, meanwhile, is down slightly from last fall, but the number of incoming freshmen is up by 63 percent.

As of Aug. 31, there were 2,379 students enrolled at Highlands’ Las Vegas campus.

The additional 50 students make up a 2.1 percent increase over last fall. The number of credit hours being taken has also increased by 2.6 percent.

Of note is that there are more undergraduate students at Highlands this fall and fewer graduate students.

Undergraduate enrollment rose 3.3 percent to 1,782, but graduate enrollment is down 1.2 percent at 597. School officials speculate that the slight drop in graduate enrollment is due to the large number of graduate students who completed their degrees last year. According to school figures, the university conferred 410 graduate degrees last year.

In general, enrollment at the Highlands centers is down. The new Albuquerque center for social work reports 294 students this semester. The San Juan College center in Farmington gained six students. The Rio Rancho center’s enrollment numbers dropped by 354, which is likely due to the opening of the Albuquerque center. Enrollment numbers also dropped at the Raton Learning Center, which has 24 fewer students, at Santa Fe Community College, which has 17 fewer students, and at the Roswell social work center, which has one fewer student than last fall.

Overall, external programs enrollment dropped by 9.8 percent, although credit hours for those programs was down by only 9.2 percent.

Highlands spokesman Sean Weaver said the university is doing several things to try to attract more students, including making the website easier to use and emphasizing the quality of education and the national level of research being done at Highlands.

The application process is also being streamlined in an effort to retain more applicants.

For its small size and low tuition, Highlands boasts an impressive amount of research grants received in a variety of departments, according to Weaver. A $200,000 grant from NASA is supporting research to make cleaning up spills of a chemical called hydrazine significantly less expensive.

Last May, media arts students helped to create a multimedia exhibit at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science called “Emergence: A New View Of Life’s Origins” with funding from the National Science Foundation. Some of this exhibit can be viewed online at the museum’s webpage. Other departments have received grants from many sources, including the National Science Foundation, the US Departments of Agriculture and Education, the state of New Mexico and from other universities as well.

Weaver added that Highlands has the only accredited forestry degree program in New Mexico and the only bilingual social work school in the state.

“Dr. (Jim) Fries has goals for increased enrollment over the next five years,” Weaver said. “I think they’re very achievable, but we need to work with the city and internally to grow in a wise fashion.”

Luna Community College’s enrollment as of Sept. 27 was 1,791, with 578 full-time students and 1,213 part-time students. Although the total number of students is down by 70 from last fall, Luna saw a 63 percent increase in new freshmen from last fall and a 59 percent increase in online enrollment.

Totals from the satellites in Springer and Santa Rosa are 120 students, not counting enrollment for online courses. The satellites and other site locations offer core classes, some certificates, and facilities to take the online courses.

Luna is also making efforts to increase enrollment. A television commercial cast and produced by Luna students aired on local and statewide channels this summer. The college also advertises through radio shows, runs newspaper ads and reaches out to potential students at college fairs and high schools.

A new Media Education center is being built and should be partially open in the spring, according to Luna spokesman Jesse Gallegos. It will house classrooms and a recording studio.

Over the past four years, Luna has begun offering 12 new programs including two general studies degrees, a pre-engineering degree and an electrical wiring certificate.

The college has also obtained national accreditation in the nursing, dental assisting, building technologies and welding programs. And school officials are aiming to gain accreditation for the college’s culinary arts program.

The school is also focusing on raising its graduation rate.

Graduation rates at community colleges are often low because only a small percentage of the students are full time or aim to get a degree. Rates from 2009-11 fluctuated from 14.6 percent to 15.8 percent.

“In 2012, Luna Community College had 193 graduates, the most over the last five years,” Gallegos said. “We have set a target graduation rate of 25 percent for 2013.”

He attributes the large increase in freshmen partly to the television commercial featuring Luna students, and says the college is now working on retaining students by emphasizing the tutoring and advisement available.

Of the 25 percent graduation goal, Gallegos said, “I know it’s high, but our students’ success is very important to us.”