ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – College enrollment dropped in New Mexico during the COVID-19 pandemic. Central New Mexico (CNM) was particularly hard hit, and now legislative analysts say it’s costing them.

“Since 2019, our enrollment has been dropping 3% [per year],” says Nireata Seals, the college’s vice president for enrollment management and student success. “CNM, I think, in 2019, had over 23,000 students, and we’re at 18,000 students now.”

That drop means that in some classes, seats are remaining empty. And the cost of teaching those partially-full classes is adding up.

In their latest newsletter, the state’s Legislative Finance Committee says it cost CNM $1 million to deliver courses that were less than half full during the 2021-2022 school year. But the school says it’s working to figure out how to retain students.

“We still have a lot of efforts that we’re doing to try to increase enrollment and outreach to current students,” Seals told KRQE News 13. CNM is not only trying to attract first-time students, but also focus on students who were previously enrolled but haven’t re-enrolled.

Following the pandemic, CNM has also altered its course offerings. Online courses, in particular, have become especially popular, according to Sydney Gunthorpe, CNM’s vice president for academic affairs.

“Typically, we have 30% of our courses that are offered online,” Gunthorpe says. “Right now, we’re reversing that. So, we are 70% online and 30% face-to-face.”

They’ve also been offering a program called “Attend Anywhere.” The program gives students normally, in-class lectures while simultaneously giving students to watch the lectures from home via video conferencing. The program began during the fall 2019 term but is continuing to help working students attend college.

“We, in academic affairs, are doing everything that we can to make sure that we are creating as many options for students so that they can persist and graduate,” Gunthorpe explains. And CNM isn’t just relying on online, multi-option classes to try to help students and boost enrollment.

On-campus, CNM is focusing on boosting students mental and physical health. The idea is that healthy students and a healthy environment are part of attracting and keeping students.

“We want to make sure that we’re providing or referring students out to mental health counseling,” explains Nireata Seals. “And we have a food pantry on this [the main] campus. And we’re thinking about expanding to other locations.”

For non-traditional students interested in attending college, the state recently boosted the state’s Opportunity Scholarship, which can cover all tuition for some students. And Nireata Seals says the best way to find what CNM has to offer is to visit a campus, even if you don’t know what you want to study.

“You don’t have to have a path when you walk in the door. We will help you develop and find that path,” Seals says. “So just walk in.”