UNM students make their way on campus October 17, 2022, as the University is seeing a major increase in enrollment. (Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)


Led by a strong freshman class, the student population at New Mexico’s flagship university increased for the first time in a decade this fall.

Total enrollment at the University of New Mexico this fall was 21,982, which includes students on the school’s main campus and Health Sciences Center. The enrollment figure marked a 1.8% increase from last year and the first time since 2012 that the school’s total student body size increased.

This year’s incoming freshman class is 14% larger than last fall’s class. There were 3,509 new freshmen this year, which is the first year since 2013 that the class has had more than 3,500 students, according to university officials.

That’s a significant change from recent years. In 2019, UNM’s freshman class dipped to just 2,594 students but has been steadily increasing since then.

Dan García, UNM’s vice president for enrollment management, said the size of the freshman class is critical to the university’s future enrollment. A large freshman class leads to large sophomore, junior and senior classes, and a small freshman class has the opposite effect for years.

“It’s effectively a domino effect that continues to impact total student enrollment,” García said. “It has been an effort on the part of the university to try to recruit, attract and enroll more first-year students intentionally and we’ve been very successful for the last few years.”

He attributed the changing trend to the expanded Opportunity Scholarship, a relatively new scholarship that state residents can tap into. More than 11,000 students across all UNM campuses benefited from the scholarship this fall.

“It prompted a lot of students to begin, or continue their education in the state because of the financial assistance to help cover the cost of tuition and fees,” García said. “Our assumption is that the state of New Mexico is seeing the impact it’s having on students’ choice to stay in the state and to go to college in a state and that they’ll seriously consider continuing this for many more years.”

UNM’s incoming freshman class also saw big increases in the number of Native American, Hispanic and Black students.

The effects of the scholarship weren’t just seen at UNM. New Mexico State University in Las Cruces saw its largest freshman class since 2009, which pushed total enrollment on its main campus to 14,268. That is a 2.6% increase from the year before.

“Those readmitted students are up 64.8%. These are students who left us at some point in the last two years, and because they were in good standing, the Opportunity Scholarship really gave them the financial confidence they needed to re-enter college,” Renay Scott, NMSU’s vice president for student success, said in a statement.

Enrollment at UNM’s branch campuses in Gallup, Los Alamos, Taos, and Valencia saw a combined increase of 5.8% this fall compared to last year.

UNM President Garnett Stokes said in an op-ed published in the Journal on Monday that a record 27% of this year’s freshmen are first-generation college students, which she said creates an added responsibility for faculty and staff.

“One of our obligations as New Mexico’s flagship university is to ensure a learning environment that fosters self-confidence and drives academic success for all students,” she wrote.

Among the first-year students, 78.1% are from New Mexico, 20.5% are from out of state and 1.4% are international students.

“I am delighted that so many new students are choosing to come to the University of New Mexico,” Stokes said in a statement. “I’m particularly proud that UNM is leading in removing barriers to a world-class education, while continuing to attract talented and diverse students who also reflect the vibrant culture and history of our university, New Mexico and the region.”