New Mexico Plans to Offer Students Free College Tuition

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A new proposal from New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham will make college tuition-free for all New Mexico students. If approved by the state’s legislature, this measure will benefit 55,000 students in fall 2020. 

​”This is the most exciting day in my 25-year career in New Mexico higher education,” said Higher Education Secretary Kate O’Neill in a statement. “That’s because students are the beneficiaries of this incredible proposal. Through this program, with the support of the Legislature, we are making a meaningful investment in our students. We’re broadening opportunity for so many New Mexicans who want to learn, who want to get a head start on a great career, who want to provide for themselves, their families and our communities.”

The proposal, called the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, would make New Mexico the second state in the nation to offer free four-year college tuition to its residents. New York passed similar legislation in April. However, unlike New York, New Mexico’s plan does not have any income restrictions or requirements to remain in the state after graduation.  

The Fine Print

The Opportunity Scholarship is what’s called a ‘last-dollar’ program. This means it covers any tuition and fees not covered by federal subsidy programs. It will be particularly beneficial to families who make too much money to qualify for federal funds such as Pell Grants, but still can’t afford the cost of tuition. 

Additionally, the scholarship does not cover the cost of books, transportation or other living expenses. According to a report by the College Board, tuition and fees only cover about 40% of the total college cost of in-state students living on campus. 

This concerns Wil Del Pilar, the vice president for higher education at The Education Trust, a nonpartisan Washington research group. “Students show up to community colleges believing that they are going to get … free college. And what they realize is there are all these other expenses. And so, students end up working. If you’re a low-income student and you’re working, you’re not studying. You’re maybe not taking a full course load,” Del Pilar told NPR. 

The bottom line

While it isn’t perfect, this proposal will most certainly help make higher education more accessible to New Mexicans. One of its most immediate effects will be making college campuses in the state more diverse. 

“This program is an absolute game-changer for New Mexico,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “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.”

Ailen is the Managing Editor at ParentsTogether. She lives in Charlotte, NC with her husband and two spirited boys.