LAS CRUCES, N.M. (KRQE) – Ten percent, that’s how much of a drop colleges across the nation have seen in their enrollment over the past ten years. But New Mexico’s higher education numbers are even worse. The state has seen a 27 percent drop in enrollment over the last decade, something New Mexico State University has kept its eye on.

“Since that time in 2018, it was just up slightly in 2019, maybe up by 11 students, and then we hit a pandemic that definitely impacted enrollment and individuals’ decisions to come to college,” Dr. Renay Scott, the Vice President of Student Success at NMSU said.

But this year, enrollment is up. NMSU is seeing a 2.7 percent increase in its student body. “We’re seeing the largest freshman class since the fall of 2009,” Scott said.

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Officials say it’s all because of the Opportunity Scholarship that was expanded earlier this year. It covers all tuition and fees for students as long as they have lived in the state for a year, have a high school diploma, and earn at least a 2.5 GPA.

“I think the opportunity scholarship gives those students that little bit of comfort, knowing hey I at least have this, and it will help me stay in school and I can accomplish my goal,” Scott said.

NMSU conducted focus groups since the start of the semester to insight into why so many people decided to head back to the classroom. Those meetings show the opportunity scholarship is working. Out of 21,000 students this year on all of NMSU’s campuses, data shows more than 9,000 of them are receiving the opportunity scholarship. A lot of them are young adults heading back to the classroom after a break.

“What I like about what they mentioned was it really allows me the opportunity not to have to work as much while I go to school, and I really feel like I can focus on my studies,” Scott said.