New Mexico has passed a law that allows public university students to receive education without any tuition fees starting from July 1.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, signed the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act on March 4 allocating millions of dollars in state funding toward free college education. Reportedly the most wide-reaching free-of-cost college program in the country, the Opportunity Scholarship Act has been enacted for state residents to obtain tuition-free education from qualifying in-state public universities, community colleges, or tribal colleges.
“For over a quarter of a century, New Mexico has been a national leader in providing free college to its residents. A fully funded Opportunity Scholarship opens the door for every New Mexican to reach higher, strengthening our economy, our families and our communities,” Grisham said in a press release when she signed the act.
Some of the conditions of scholarship eligibility are that the student must be enrolled for a minimum of six credit hours per semester in a credit-bearing two-year program, and maintain a 2.5 out of 4.0 cumulative grade point average.
“A scholarship for a credit-bearing certificate may only be awarded where data indicates that the certificate is in high demand by New Mexico employers as determined by the department in consultation with the workforce solutions department,” according to the bill.
The General Appropriations Act will direct $75 million to the scholarship program, an amount that can support at least 35,000 students, which is almost half of all undergraduates in the state.
Proponents of the bill claim that the initiative will impact the lives of millions of New Mexicans including adult learners returning to colleges to complete degree programs. Over the past two years the scholarship has been awarded to more than 10,000 students.
Opponents of the bill, including Republican Sen. David Gallegos, have questioned its long-term viability.
“Where do we take the money from? Public safety? Public education? I just don’t know where we continue the money,” Gallegos told CNN in 2019 when the bill was first proposed.
Other than New Mexico, many states in the country have introduced initiatives to provide some sort of tuition-free education in colleges. California started offering free education for two-year full-time community college students in 2019, while the University of Texas established a $300 million endowment for assisting students with paying tuition in its institutions.
Currently, there is $7.4 billion of student loan debt in the state of New Mexico, according to Student Loan Hero, an online loan management application. There are almost 200,000 student loan borrowers in the state who owe an average of $32,986, which is 10 percent below the national average of $36,689.