By Marlena Hartz : Freedom Newspapers
Lured by the prospect of saving money and being close to home, many Clovis and Portales high school graduates are choosing to continue their education in their back yards, attending Clovis Community College or Eastern New Mexico University.
“A lot of my friends are excited to get away from this town. I want to get out, but not immediately,” said Portales High School senior Kasha Wortham, who plans to attend CCC or Eastern.
Wortham, 18, plans to stay with her family, at least for a little while, and eat her meals at home, she said. She wants to reap the financial benefits.
Clovis High School senior Andre Johnson, 17, plans to attend Eastern. The senior ranks family and church among his top concerns. He wants to stay in a dorm room at Eastern, but he predicts he will visit home every weekend and continue to attend his family’s Baptist church.
“At first,” he said, “I wanted to go far away from home, but I changed my mind.”
Clovis and Portales high school seniors who enroll at ENMU upon graduation account for about 30 percent of the student population there, according to statistics provided by the university that span the past five years.
The classrooms of CCC are similarly flooded with Clovis, Portales and other local students, according to David Caffey, CCC vice president of institutional effectiveness. The college has seen a serious boom in enrollment of students 20 years of age and under, Caffey said.
There were about 500 students in that age group enrolled in the fall semester of 1996. That number had bulged to about 1,000 in the fall semester of 2005, according to Caffey.
Those statistics account for recent high school graduates and high school students who are enrolled in a few college courses, he said.
Reasons for the backyard trend can be split into two categories, according to Clovis High School guidance counselors: Financial restrictions play a major role, and some seniors cling to the security of home.
“It seems like a lot of our students want to stay closer to home now for the security blanket it provides,” said Diane Tunnell, CHS guidance counselor for the senior class.
A scholarship system in New Mexico, called New Mexico Lottery Success Scholarships, awards college tuition money to eligible graduating seniors in the state who choose to go to New Mexico public colleges or universities.
The program is an incentive for students to remain in the state for schooling, especially as tuition fees continue to climb, CHS guidance counselor Kathleen Penland said.
“There is a financial aspect to all of this. Some families are just more financially prepared than others,” Penland said.