FARMINGTON – Free college tuition in New Mexico is closer to becoming a reality, passing a hurdle as it moves through the state’s Legislature.
The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship was approved by the Senate Education Committee on Monday, moving the state closer to offering in-state students free tuition at public colleges and universities.
“With the Opportunity Scholarship, we are establishing concrete pathways for New Mexicans who want to stay here, attain skills here and launch a fulfilling career here,” Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham said in a statement Monday. “I am very glad to see lawmakers joining the march, and I look forward to the next steps.”
The legislation would help to fulfill Lujan Grisham’s promise to reduce tuition costs and lower student debt. The governor, in her second year, said the scholarship “is one of the most meaningful positive steps we can take toward a robust cradle-to-career education system.”
If passed by New Mexico lawmakers, starting in the fall of 2021, the state would start covering tuition and fees for recent high school graduates, and students 24 years and older would be eligible to receive free tuition for two courses a semester toward an associate degree or certificate program. The tuition programs as outlined in the bill would cost the state $26 million its first year and $45 million each year after.
While the state lottery helps to support tuition for many four-year undergraduate students, it does not provide funds for those seeking associate degrees or certificate programs after high school. Lujan Grisham’s Opportunity Scholarship would provide funding to support those adult students.
The bill was passed out of its first committee with two Republicans in opposition. One of those lawmakers, Rep. Rebecca Dow, said during the committee hearing that it would be better for the state to target specific industries with labor shortages rather than offering financial aid and support to all students.
New Mexico’s push to create a free tuition program and drive-down student debt follows a larger national trend. Last year, Colorado Gov. Jared Polis revealed a plan to reduce the financial barriers many Coloradans face in receiving an education beyond a high school diploma.
During a discussion with lawmakers in November, Polis highlighted Fort Lewis College’s “Tuition Promise” program, according to The Colorado Sun. FLC’s program allows in-state students from families making less than $60,000 a year to attend the college with waived tuition.
New Mexico’s Opportunity Scholarship bill will head to the Senate Finance Committee, and lawmakers have until Feb. 20 to send new legislation to Lujan Grisham.