In an exciting move for education, one state has declared college to be tuition-free for most of its residents. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 140, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act, on Friday. According to CNN, the plan first introduced in 2019 will waive tuition costs for any students attending in-state public schools or tribal colleges, including community 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," Lujan Grisham said in a statement. "Signing this legislation sends a clear message to New Mexicans that we believe in them and the contributions they will make for their families and the future of our great state."
In order to be eligible, students must enroll in a minimum of six credit hours and maintain a grade point average of at least 2.5 during their time in college. Within the last two years, more than 10,000 students have already received the scholarship, the governor's office said in a press release.
Now that the legislation has been signed, $75 million will be allocated to the fund, increasing the number of those who can receive the award to up to 35,000 students in the fall alone, the governor's office said. Those attending school as part-time students, as well as adult learners, are also eligible.
In addition to covering the full cost of tuition, the scholarship lets students use federal aid funds such as Pell Grants, local scholarships, and private scholarships to pay for books, materials, housing, food, transportation, childcare, and other college costs.
“Today, we have taken a large step toward improving outcomes for all New Mexicans by investing in their potential and the potential of our entire state. Working hand in hand with Governor Lujan Grisham and Secretary Rodriguez, we are making transformative change possible for every family and community,” Sen. Liz Stefanics said.
According to the Santa Fe New Mexican, the Federal Reserve estimates that in the second quarter of 2021, Americans owed $1.73 trillion in student loans. Data compiled by the Institute for College Access and Success in 2020 found that residents in New Mexico averaged around $21,000 in student debt.
“Now, with this Opportunity Scholarship, it’s going to take that stress off of a student,” Julia Furry, director of the auto technologies department at Santa Fe Community College, told Santa Fe New Mexican. “For them, it will be, ‘Oh good, I have school paid for. I don’t have to hold down two jobs. I can focus on my education, and the end result is a great degree and good-paying job.’“
Of course, the plan did not come without opposition, some Republicans in the state did not support the plan claiming it was not “sustainable,” CNN reported. But despite this, the legislation made it through and now serves as an example for other states. It is currently the most expansive program for higher education in the nation.
“With the Opportunity Scholarship Act, New Mexico has made history and set a national example of how states can break down barriers for students everywhere,” Higher Education Department Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “This would not have been possible without the leadership of Gov. Lujan Grisham, the advocacy of New Mexico students who propelled this legislation forward by sharing their experiences, and the work of our many other partners at the state and national level who have helped us permanently change the game for every New Mexican who wants to pursue higher education.”
Across the country, many states have begun programs or passed legislation that enables some college support, however free tuition at all levels of college remains rare. Most have only successfully passed legislation to allow free tuition at the community college level. Even President Joe Biden attempted to nationally waive tuition—that too only on the community level—and was unsuccessful.
For those interested in receiving the scholarship, the government says to complete the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), no other application is needed to receive the Opportunity Scholarship. More information is available at www.freecollegenm.org.