Free college tuition proposal could get a second chance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance. A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status. The plan would combine […]

Free college tuition proposal could get a second chance

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s plan to offer free tuition to all New Mexico residents attending in-state colleges might get a second chance.

A new proposal backed by two Democratic lawmakers and the state Higher Education Department would cover tuition for up to 35,000 eligible students — regardless of their income status.

The plan would combine all of the state’s existing college scholarships into one aid pool and steeply increase the available funding.

“The real goal is to ensure college affordability, to establish an all-encompassing free college package combining all the scholarships for New Mexicans looking to enroll,” Rep. Joy Garratt, D-Albuquerque, a co-sponsor of the possible legislation, told lawmakers on the interim Legislative Education Study Committee during a meeting Monday.

For years, New Mexico has developed initiatives to cover some tuition costs for in-state college and university students, including both new high school graduates and adults. But the state has not yet provided enough money to fulfill Lujan Grisham’s goal of free tuition for all, which she first announced in 2019 as the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship. 

The new proposal — which Garratt and her co-sponsor, Sen. Liz Stefanics, D-Cerrillos, have not yet filed — would cost $137.5 million, according to the Higher Education Department.

Lawmakers would have to approve $85.5 million, Garratt said.

The remaining $52 million would be transferred from the Legislative Lottery Scholarship program, which draws revenue from lottery ticket sales, Stephanie Montoya, a spokeswoman for the Higher Education Department, wrote in an email. 

Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said in September her agency was working on a budget request that would include the cost of “free college for all.”

The aid would be available to any undergraduate seeking a trade certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree, Rodriguez told lawmakers Monday.

Montoya confirmed there would be no income eligibility requirements to apply for the funding.

A student would have to maintain a 2.5 grade-point average to receive the aid and take at least six credit hours per semester at a state or tribal college in New Mexico. The aid would only be available to students who have not yet earned a bachelor’s degree.

Scholarships would be awarded for each semester but could be renewed if the student continued to meet the conditions of eligibility. 

Under the state’s current tuition assistance programs, eligible New Mexico students have two options. If they are seeking an associate degree at a two-year college, they can apply for the Opportunity Scholarship, which covers remaining tuition after all other government aid options have been applied.

The Legislative Lottery Scholarship, initiated in the mid-1990s, has provided as much as 100 percent of tuition — and as little as 65 percent — for new high school graduates seeking an associate or bachelor’s degree. 

Together, the two scholarship programs serve about 17,600 students, according to data from the Higher Education Department. 

But both have faced challenges trying to serve all eligible students. 

By state law, 30 percent of the New Mexico Lottery’s gross revenue goes to the lottery scholarship fund. But with ticket sales declining and tuition rates rising, the scholarship program has struggled to keep pace with demand.

Lujan Grisham introduced the Opportunity Scholarship in September 2019 as a $26 million program to cover college tuition costs for up to 55,000 students who first apply for federal grant and scholarship funds.

Lawmakers allocated $17 million for the program during the 2020 legislative session and made it available only to two-year community college students. During a special session in June 2020, however, the fund was reduced to $5 million after state revenues plummeted amid the COVID-19 pandemic and declining oil prices.

Rodriguez said the Opportunity Scholarship was funded with $18 million in the 2021 legislative session.

Rep. Raymundo Lara, D-Chamberino, asked several questions about student eligibility for the proposed aid, noting eligibility conditions for existing scholarship programs vary. 

“I’m asking as the parent of a college student,” he said, drawing laughter. His son attends New Mexico State University. 

After the meeting, Lara said the new plan “sounds like a good idea, bundling everything together.”

But he said he’d like to see the eligibility requirements “fleshed out more. I’m worried about the clarity.”

We're ad free

That means that we rely on support from readers like you. Help us keep reporting on the most important New Mexico Stories by donating today.

Related

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List endorses seven candidates for Legislature

Emily’s List, a nonprofit that supports women candidates and reproductive rights, endorsed seven incumbents facing general election opponents in New Mexico legislative elections. All…
Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

Equality New Mexico endorses 15 legislative candidates

A New Mexico-based LGBTQ rights organization endorsed 15 candidates for state House and Senate seats for the 2024 elections.  Marshall Martinez, executive director of…
Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Lujan Grisham pocket vetoes two bills

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham pocket vetoed two bills the legislature passed this legislative session: one changing the Cybersecurity Act and the other concerning law…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

Heinrich co-sponsors legislation to address PFAS in private wells

About 13 percent of New Mexico’s population relies solely on private wells for drinking water and this removes a level of health security. For…
EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

EPA announces new drinking water standards for PFAS chemicals

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced drinking water standards on Wednesday that are intended to protect Americans from contamination from PFAS chemicals. This is…
Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

Amid new graduation requirements, what do high schoolers want to learn?

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican The main things that bring Brayan Chavez to school every day: Seeing, talking to and engaging with…
Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

Special ed teachers hope lawmakers OK pay raises, admin changes

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican Brittany Behenna Griffith has a laundry list of adjectives to describe the ideal special education teacher:…
Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

Lawmakers must find consensus on competing education spending plans

By Margaret O’Hara, The Santa Fe New Mexican A challenging task awaits New Mexico lawmakers in the next 30 days: Reconciling three very different…
Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Health workers fear it’s profits before protection as CDC revisits airborne transmission

Amy Maxmen, KFF Health News Four years after hospitals in New York City overflowed with covid-19 patients, emergency physician Sonya Stokes remains shaken by…
Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Lujan Grisham, Biden admin announce $10 million in federal funds for tribes, pueblos

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced Friday $10 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act was awarded to six tribal nations and…
Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

Proposal to curb executive powers moves to House Judiciary

The House Government, Elections and Indian Affairs Committee discussed a potential constitutional amendment that seeks to limit the governor’s executive powers. The committee approved…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…
The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

The status of the lawsuit New Mexico joined to remove FDA restrictions to mifepristone

While the U.S. Supreme Court considers the future of access to the abortion medication, mifepristone, another lawsuit against the FDA that would expand access…
Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Senators introduce legislation to aid abortion providers

Sen. Martin Heinrih and other Senate colleagues introduced abortion rights legislation into the U.S. Senate on Thursday. The Abortion Care Capacity Enhancement and Support…
Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Politics Newsletter: Early and absentee voting

Good morning fellow political junkies! Early and absentee voting for the June 4 New Mexico primary begins in about a month. The nonprofit election…
San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

San Juan County, Navajo Nation settle redistricting case

The Navajo Nation and San Juan County reached an agreement Monday about commission districts after the tribe alleged that its members were not adequately…
MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

MIT ranks NM elections most well-run in the U.S.

New Mexico’s 2022 election was ranked most well-run in the country by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Election Data and Science Lab’s Elections Performance Index.…
What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

What the low unemployment rates for months means for NM’s economy

Post-pandemic, New Mexico has had an extended run of low unemployment rates. New Mexico’s unemployment rate has remained stable at 4.0 percent since October…
Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

Feds announce final renewable energy rule for public lands

The U.S. Department of the Interior announced a final renewable energy rule Thursday that is expected to pave the way for increased wind, solar…
How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

How the AZ Supreme Court decision on abortion impacts New Mexico

The Arizona Supreme Court ruled on Tuesday that an 1864 abortion ban is enforceable, throwing another state bordering New Mexico into the situation of…

GET INVOLVED

© 2023 New Mexico Political Report