Tech experiencing growing pains with incoming students

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Tech is scrambling to find space and teachers for 373 freshman, up 49 from last year’s record crowd, according to Tech’s admissions office.

For the third year in a row, New Mexico Tech’s freshman class is breaking enrollment records, according to Sara Grijalva, New Mexico Tech registrar.

Tech does not limit enrollment, so admission surges have to be accommodated somehow.

“We have been more reactive than we would like,” she said. “It’s a chicken-and-egg problem. We don’t want to build classrooms and hire faculty unless we need them, but then the students show up and you need those things.”

“We have not been asked to cap enrollment,” said Melissa Jaramillo-Fleming, vice president for Student and University Relations. “All qualified students who apply are admitted.”

Tech requires aspiring freshman to have a minimum score of 21 on the ACT and a minimum 2.5 high school grade point average, she said.

But students applying to Tech tend to exceed these requirements.

“On average, Tech freshmen show a 26 ACT score and a 3.5 grade point average,” she said.

Most first-year students applying to Tech are New Mexicans, but about one third are out of staters.

“We have a seen more out-of-state students this year,” Grijalva said. “A few are from Texas and California. They said Tech’s out-of-state tuition is cheaper than their in-state tuition.”

Freshman have been able to enroll in the classes they need, but not always their first choices.

“I haven’t had many complaints. We have opened up new sections and hired more faculty,” she said. “But students are not getting those 10 a.m. classes.”

“All of our classrooms are completely booked from 8 a.m. until 3 p.m., Monday through Friday,” Grijalva said. “We only have space now for late afternoon or evening classes.”

Students have been able to sign up for the classes they need, the registrar said.

“Not all got an ideal schedule but everyone got a one that advances their degree,” she said. “And classes are fuller than they used to be.”

Faculty have been signing overrides, letting more students sign up for their classes, she said. The engineering science lecture class that all engineering underclassmen have to take has from 60-100 students in each section, up from the usual 50.

Freshman Makala Hannagan, of Alamogordo, said her general psychology class was pretty full.

“All of the desks are taken,” she said. “Everyone takes it as an elective.”

But freshmen Abigail Montoya, of Albuquerque, and Janice Pino, of Bernalillo, think class size is no problem.

“It’s not even close to being crowded,” Montoya said.

“All my classes are pretty small,” Pino said.

The extra classes and less-than-ideal schedules mean more work for faculty and staff, but the mood on campus is still upbeat.

“Faculty have been really good about accommodating the students’ needs,” Grijalva said.

More math students mean more classes for the math faculty, said Anwar Hossain, math department chair.

“I am happy to say that the teaching assistants can handle most of the math labs and 100-level classes. We have opened new sections, and sizes have gone over 40 students,” Hossain said. “The faculty have had to teach more classes than usual because we don’t want to overload our student teaching assistants.”

Hossain said graduate teaching assistants usually teach labs and freshman math classes.

The chemistry department was fortunate to have enough lab space available to handle the unexpected student influx, but finding staff and equipping the labs has been a challenge, said Jeff Altig, assistant professor of chemistry.

“We are teaching more chemistry labs this year than ever, and it’s been putting a strain on us to staff and equip them,” Altig said. “We have a fixed budget for student teaching assistants, so faculty members have taken on more teaching load.”

On the bright side, the chemistry department has received more funding to purchase lab equipment.

“We have been buying furiously,” he said.

Because the hiring freeze is over, Tech can staff more classes this year, which helps the crunch for classes.

“We are offering more electives,” said Mary Dezember, associate vice president for academic affairs. “We have more foreign languages. During the freeze, we could only offer Spanish, because we already had a tenure-track Spanish professor to teach it. Now we have hired part-time faculty to teach two sections of German and one of Chinese.”

Even administrators have been tapped as teachers.

Tech Vice President Van Romero is teaching a freshman-level social sciences elective.

And Tech has hired 16 new full-time faculty this fall, with two more scheduled to begin in the spring, she said.

Finding dorm space has been the biggest challenge, according to Jaramillo-Fleming.

Tech is building a new dorm, but the facilities won’t be ready until next year.

“A new dorm with 150 beds will be finished in time for next year’s freshmen,” Jaramillo-Fleming said.

Because of a this year’s shortage of dorm space, up to 50 freshmen have been housed at the Super 8 motel north of town, she said.

“We have tried to make it like a dorm,” she said. “There is a resident assistant living in the motel with the students, an older student who acts as a go-to person.”

Students at Super 8 take their meals at Fidel Center with the other freshmen, she said. The city of Socorro’s shuttle transports the students to and from classes for a nominal fee, and students can call campus police to take them to campus and back when the shuttle is unavailable.

The final student count was not available by press time. Students had until Sept. 7 to drop classes, according to Thomas Guengerich, Tech public relations officer.