Undergraduates at UNM are taking longer to graduate due to finances and difficult coursework

(Eduardo Naranjo / NM News Port)

As part of our Curious UNM project, our reporters are taking questions about the University of New Mexico. This story by Eduardo Naranjo looks at the question of “What’s holding back students from graduating within four years?”   

By Eduardo Naranjo / NM News Port 

For many universities, it’s supposed to take four-years for undergraduate students to walk the stage and get their diploma –  now, that’s proving to not be the case. 

The University of New Mexico is a traditional four-year institution, meaning that undergraduate programs should take up to four years to earn a Bachelor’s degree. The average time for those same undergraduates to get their diploma is 4.8 years –  almost one more year than expected. 

“Time to degree” is a common term that is used to identify how long a student takes to get their degree from the time they enrolled at a university. The national average is just over five years, according to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center.     

UNM Institutional Researcher Edwin Agbenyega said there are many ways that can affect the time it takes students to graduate.

“Workload, difficulty, program requirements, advisement, and personal reasons such as finances, etc… “ Agbenyega said.

UNM offers 83 bachelor’s degrees, and the average time to complete those degrees can vary from four years to eight. From those programs, only five programs averaged a degree time of four years. For 11 programs, students averaged five years.          

With 16,662 undergraduates at UNM, you can see how the number of reasons can vary. Program requirements are a common barrier that holds back students to graduate within the four years.  

“It’s a hard degree and I’ve had to take several classes, multiple times,” said Kenneth Lucero, a UNM student majoring in Computer Science.  

Lucero is one of many students who struggle with their classes. A degree in Computer Science at UNM takes about five years to finish. A program such as Computer Science requires their students to have a strong background in math, as they are required to take Calculus I, Calculus II, Linear Algebra, etc. 

In the spring of 2019, Calculus I happened to have one of the highest course fail rates at UNM, according to UNM Institutional of Analytics. Of the students that took the course, over 50% of them failed. 

The transition from high school into college can be rough for freshmen. New school, new system, harder course work, the list goes on. 

“I wasn’t exactly prepared for the classes I needed to take, such as Calculus,” D’marco Marquez, an electrical engineering major at UNM said. “I needed a class prior to that… maybe instead of four years I’ll finish in five.”   

Freshmen also have to take into account what area of study they want to go in, which can delay their time to graduate within the four year. Approximately one third of college students change majors within three years of their initial enrollment.

Transferring schools can always be complicated, especially when students are close to finishing their degrees. At UNM there are approximately 1,298 transfer students and they all have to transfer their credits, which might hold them back depending on what credits are transferable.    

“I transferred from another university, and because I transferred some of my credits didn’t transfer with me,” said Josephine Huesers, an Elementary Education major.

Huesers is currently completing her junior year at UNM after completing two years of classes at another university. She’s expecting to graduate in another three.

Switching majors, having to retake courses, and transferring schools not only extends time for students at the university, but also adds more financial cost.  

Pushing the graduation date can cause students some problems, as it can damage them financially.

“Significantly, if I would’ve passed all my classes and graduated on time within the four year, it would’ve cost me zero dollars,” Lucero said. “Since I didn’t finish on time I had to take out 3,000 dollars of student loans to finish college.”      

Tuition and fees at UNM are currently at about $7,556 for New Mexico residents, if a student wants to finish a four-year degree on time, they would have to invest about $60,448. That amount can easily increase by adding one or two semesters. 

On average the national debt that a student owes is $30,100 upon graduation. As of August 2019, in New Mexico it’s about $32,037. 


 Eduardo Naranjo is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. He can be contacted on Twitter @Eduardonaranjo or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.