New Mexico Unveils New College Initiative

New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced her plans for free in-state college tuition for New Mexico residents on Wednesday Sept. 18.

If the bill is passed through the state’s legislature, the “New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship” will take effect in July of 2020 and help an estimated 55,000 New Mexico residents.

The scholarship will be available to all New Mexico residents, not just those who previously qualified for the Pell Grant and other government assistance.

The estimated 30 million dollars a year for the scholarship is expected to come from the states general fund, which has seen some extra revenue from increased oil production in the Permian basin. This means that, theoretically, New Mexico residents would not see an increase in state income tax due to this program.

“This program will pay for itself,” said Temple University professor of Higher Education Policy and Sociology, Sara Goldrick-Rab. “Right now, they are losing talented people.”

With the average student loan debt climbing to just over 30 thousand per student, more states are passing free tuition plans, although none as ambitious as New Mexico.

New York paved the path for free tuition in April of 2017, and since then over 20 states have passed similar legislature. Providing free two- and four- year college tuition, with different states pulling the funding from different resources as well as having different stipulations.

Maryland, Tennessee and Rhode Island are all states that provide last-dollar based tuition free programs, meaning that for residents with financial need, the state will cover the additional cost of tuition after other funding, such as Pell Grants, have been applied.

Governor Grisham’s New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship is by far the most courageous, proposing both two-year colleges will be tuition-free on a last-dollar basis, regardless of financial need, so long as the student is a New Mexico Resident.

For adults who are looking into going back to school, two-year programs would be covered by the scholarship.

“It’s a cheaper program than it would be in most states," said Carmen Lopez-Wilson, New Mexico Higher Education Deputy Secretary. “We have significant financial aid infrastructure already built into the state budget." Lopez-Wilson told Albuquerque Journal that the state would only be picking up the slack that isn’t covered by existing financial aid and scholarships such as Pell Grants and the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship.

For four-year college students, requirements for the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship would closely mirror those requirements for the Lottery Scholarship. Some stipulations are maintaining a 2.5 GPA, remaining a full-time student and starting within 16 months of graduating High School or obtaining your equivalency.

** information and quotes featured in this article were compiled from NPR, New York Post, the Daily Lobo and Albuquerque Journal. **

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