New Mexico Governor Proposes Free Tuition for State College Students

Goddard Hall at New Mexico State University. (AllenS via Wikipedia)

ALBUQUERQUE (CN) – New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a program Wednesday that will pay for 100% of undergraduate tuition and fees at New Mexico universities for eligible in-state residents.

Speaking at the 2019 New Mexico Higher Education Summit at Central New Mexico Community College, Gov. Lujan Grisham announced plans for the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, which would need to be signed off by state lawmakers when the Legislature convenes to pass a budget in January.

The program is designed to fill the gap in college costs not covered by federal grants and the state’s Lottery Scholarship program. Combining grants and the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship typically leaves a gap of 25% to 40% in tuition for New Mexico students and their families to pay. And the Lottery Scholarships are only available to students who have graduated high school or received their equivalency within the past 16 months.

But the governor’s proposed Opportunity Scholarship will cover tuition and fees at two-year community colleges for adults who want to return to college.

Students would be able to use the scholarship to pay their tuition and fees at any public higher education institution in the state. The administration is estimating that 55,000 students would use the scholarship each year, at a cost to the state of $25 to $35 million each year.

“It’s a cheaper program than it would be in most states because we have significant financial aid infrastructure already built into the state budget with the Lottery (Scholarship) and the high Pell (Grant) usage,” said state Higher Education Deputy Secretary Carmen Lopez-Wilson. “And then the factor that our tuition across the board is really low in this state. I think those are the two major factors that make this affordable and realistic.”

If the Opportunity Scholarship Program passes the Legislature, New Mexico will become the second state to provide tuition-free college to its residents. New York passed the Excelsior Scholarship program in 2017, which offers full tuition to families and individuals making less than $125,000 per year.

“This program is an absolute game-changer for New Mexico,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “Higher education in this state, a victim of the recession, has been starved in recent years. We are pivoting to a robust reinvestment in higher learning – specifically and directly in our students. By covering the last dollar of tuition and fees, by making college significantly more accessible to New Mexicans of every income, of every background, of every age, we are putting students first. We are creating meaningful opportunity for all.”

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