As many American families struggle to make ends meet, state governments look for ways to lift their financial burden. New Mexico is the latest to join this effort. Recently, the state announced its plan to make tuition at public universities and colleges free for all residents, regardless of financial need.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham revealed the program on Wednesday, which will include the state’s 29 two- and four-year public institutions. According to the plan, students attending these schools will not be expected to pay tuition by fall semester 2020. The state’s increased revenues from oil production will provide most of the funding necessary.
However, as promising as it sounds, the initiative has yet to receive legislative approval. But Grisham is positive the program, called the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, will have the support of lawmakers.
Following in the footsteps of its New York counterpart, the Excelsior Scholarship, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship does not cover room and board. This leaves families responsible for 25% to 40% of college costs. Further like its New York predecessor, in order to qualify for New Mexico’s scholarship, students must have already drawn from federal and state aid programs.
But unlike the Excelsior Scholarship, New Mexico’s program grants all recent high school graduates free tuition, regardless of financial need. Moreover, the New Mexico plan also includes adults looking to resume their pursuit of higher education at community colleges.
Under the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, students must maintain a GPA of at least 2.5 at their institution of choice, in order to retain their financial support.
The announcement has garnered mixed reactions from experts. New York University anthropologist Caitlin Zaloom, whose research examines college costs’ impact on families, praised New Mexico’s plan as a contributor to a culminating “watershed moment” for affordable education in a New York Times piece. Zaloom expressed firm approval in New Mexico’s initiative, calling similar efforts by other states “some of the most successful engines of mobility in this country.”
However, senior higher education adviser Wesley Whistle, from research institute New America, isn’t as optimistic. “If you call it free and don’t provide the supports for students once they get there, then you still don’t set them up for success,” he told the New York Times. He was displeased that the program doesn’t cover costs outside tuition, such as textbooks and living expenses.
Generally, experts against universal free college programs argue the money is best spent on families with the most financial need.
In spite of criticism, Grisham and other New Mexico government officials are confident their plan will be approved, mainly due to the state’s widespread poverty epidemic. In 2017, the US Census Bureau ranked New Mexico as the third most impoverished state in the country.
“Our state stands to benefit more than any other state in the country because of the poverty aspect that we all face with our population every day,” she said. “Our students benefit more than any other student in the country with strategies and investments like this.”
If the plan passes, New Mexico will be the 21st state to offer a statewide scholarship program.