Santa Fe Community College is reporting a more than 5 percent drop in enrollment — a loss of nearly 300 students.

The decline in full-time equivalent students at the college this year is even greater, at over 8 percent.

The grim enrollment figures follow last year’s drop of about 4 percent, a decrease of more than 250 students.

“It is the large elephant in the room, and it’s time to do something with that elephant,” Jack Sullivan, a member of the college’s governing board, said of the shrinking student population.

Margaret Peters, vice president of academics, presented the new enrollment numbers to the governing board during a meeting last week. There are now 5,773 students enrolled at the college, she said.

The steep decline in full-time equivalent students — calculated using a credit load of 15 hours per semester — could be the result of full-time and part-time students taking fewer courses, Peters told the board.

Declining enrollment has become common at colleges and universities across New Mexico and around the nation. Just last week, University of New Mexico officials said the state’s flagship school has seen a 7 percent drop in students this year, far higher than the 1 percent to 3 percent decrease in each of the past few years. Central New Mexico Community College also announced a dip in enrollment. Luna Community College in Las Vegas, N.M., reported a nearly 20 percent drop in enrollment, from 1,327 last year to 1,065 this year.

On the other hand, Rick Bailey, president of Northern New Mexico College in Española, said enrollment there increased by 1 percent.

Inside Higher Ed reported in June that enrollment at two-year colleges in the U.S. has steadily dropped since 2010, two years after the start of the Great Recession. Analysts say this is due in part to stagnating high school graduation rates. Another reason for the decline, they say, is that economic recovery means more people are in the workforce rather than learning new skills at a community college as they search for employment.

Yash Morimoto, assistant vice president for planning and instructional effectiveness at Santa Fe Community College, said the lower enrollment also could be due to a greater focus by school leaders on graduating more students.

Last spring, he said, about 1,050 students graduated from the college — a record number.

“But that’s no excuse,” Morimoto said of the enrollment drop.

Interim President Cecilia Cervantes said the college recently started several new initiatives to draw more students. Last spring, college representatives paid regular visits to Santa Fe’s two largest public high schools, Capital High and Santa Fe High, to guide seniors through the application process and inform them about financial aid options.

The college also invites local high school juniors and seniors to visit the campus for a half-day to speak with current students, financial aid experts and teachers.

The college is looking to increase its selection of weekend, evening and online courses to attract students who are working during the day, Cervantes said.

The college, which opened in 1983, offers more than 1,000 associate degree and certificate programs.

But just over a year ago, the college cut two programs — radiologic technology and gallery management — to trim its operating budget. And a few months before that, in April 2017, the governing board declared a financial emergency and raised tuition rates. It was the third tuition hike in three years.

Sullivan suggested Wednesday that college leaders look at the role tuition rates play in attracting students.

Education Reporter

Robert Nott covers education and youth issues for the Santa Fe New Mexican