The University of New Mexico continued its trend of declining enrollment, but not at the steep level university officials had braced for amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university released its fall enrollment report Friday, which showed a 2.4 percent decrease in the student body compared to 2019. The total of 22,224 students is 548 fewer than last year’s enrollment, but that pales in comparison to the previous two falls that saw a combined decline of 3,486 students. Overall, UNM has had a steady drop over the past eight years, when it had a peak of 29,100 students in 2012.

Dan Garcia, vice president of enrollment management, said UNM had anticipated a 4.5 percent to 6 percent decrease for the semester. That projection came on the heels of a report by the American Council on Education that projected college enrollment in the fall would decline by 15 percent nationwide in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is much better than we’ve seen the past couple of years,” Garcia said. “UNM has seen some declines in enrollment. The past two years, it’s been between 6½ percent and 7 percent. So, 2.4 percent shows that we are turning the curve as far as enrollment decline.”

Two areas Garcia said were encouraging were the increase in beginning freshmen, which saw a 7.48 percent increase to 2,788 students, and new graduate students, which grew by 19.13 percent to 1,010. The other area that saw growth was out-of-state undergraduate transfers, as the total rose from 332 to 347 students.

Also, the university created the “Lobo First-Year Promise” aimed at recent in-state high school graduates from families with yearly incomes below $50,000. It ensured that the school could cover tuition and fees for those students who graduated within the last 16 months if they enrolled at UNM this fall through scholarships and grants.

“We definitely did a high degree of outreach recruiting not just new students but encouraging returning students to finish their degree,” Garcia said. “We expanded our scholarship offers to give more students resources they needed to come to UNM.”

On the flip side, the university saw a 3.52 percent decline in returning students to 15,695, plus a 4.7 percent reduction in readmitted students to 1,236. Concurrent enrollment with high school students also saw a steep drop, from 303 students to 244.

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