Mixed opinions on college affordability


New Mexico was one of nine states that decided to cut higher education spending dramatically (more than 30 percent per student) between 2008 and 2018, according to a report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

Between 2008 and 2018, average tuition prices have grown by 38 percent, outgrowing the national average of 36 percent, the report said.

The College Affordability Fund was enacted in 1996 as a need-based financial aid resource for students from low-income families. In the years following the recession, the legislature dipped into several permanent funds in order to fund services like public education, health care, and public safety. The fund was completely drained last year and will not have any more money until the legislature approves it.

“The purpose of the College Affordability Act is to encourage New Mexico students with financial needs to attend and complete educational programs at public postsecondary educational institutions in New Mexico,” said Dan Ware, communications director for the New Mexico Department of Higher Education.

The fund provides tuition assistance to New Mexico residents who have been out ofschool for more than a year and are not eligible for other scholarships or grants provided by the state, such as the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship. Award recipients can receive up to $1,000 per semester, depending on financial need. The grant is for a period of one year and may be renewed on an annual basis or until the student graduates with a bachelor’s degree from an eligible institution.

To be eligible for the College Affordability Grant, students must be New Mexico residents, enrolled at least half time as undergraduate students at a New Mexico public college or university or tribal college, demonstrate financial need as determined by the eligible college or university, and have completed a high school diploma or high school equivalency credential. Students can obtain application instructions through their university’s financial aid office.

According to New Mexico Voices for Children, inadequate public investment in higher education over the last decade has contributed to the rise in college tuition. In most cases, this leaves students with little to no choice but to accumulate more debt or quit college. This problem is especially more serious for minority and low-income students, according to the organization.

“Pushing the cost of a college education onto students and their families will not make our state stronger,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “Only by adequately investing in higher education will we be able to create a New Mexico in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”

Due to slow income growth in the U.S., the issue has become worse. The fact that the cost of a college education in New Mexico eats a small share of the average household income causes trouble for black and Hispanic families, said Jimenez.

“To succeed in tomorrow’s economy; New Mexico must strengthen its future workforce by investing today in higher education. We can only do that by ensuring we are raising enough revenue,” said Jimenez.

Federal and state financial aid has failed to bridge the gap created by the rising tuition and stagnant incomes, said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP. The lottery scholarship only covers a portion of tuition, and the College Affordability Fund was sapped due to budget shortages somewhere else.

Plateauing sales of lottery tickets, more students becoming available for the lottery, and increased tuition means that the Lottery Scholarship does not cover as much student tuition.

“More students paying more tuition out of a scholarship fund that does not have more money means something’s got to give. We advocated on making the lottery scholarship need-based, but the legislature has always been against that. Instead, it increased requirements slightly and decreased the amount of money students get. This has made it much harder for students from low-income families to get the assistance they need in order to attend school,” said Kayne.

According to Ware, a Senate bill passed this year changed the scholarship from a percentage of average tuition to a flat award based on the type of institution. The passage of the bill also saw a decline in Lottery-eligible enrollment and a $4 million special appropriation to the Lottery Tuition Fund.

“Consequently, the scholarship increased for Fiscal Year ‘19, covering 75-80 percent of tuition, depending on where a student is enrolled.It is important to note that the Lottery Scholarship has never supported the full cost of attendance – only tuition. The Lottery Scholarship remains one of the best state-supported scholarships in the nation. New Mexico students graduate with historically low levels of debt, consistently number one to two in the nation.”

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