New Mexico passes free tuition law for all residents – The Journal
The bill includes eligibility for the Ute Mountain Ute, Southern Ute, and Navajo tribes; 29 colleges participate
New Mexico has passed landmark legislation that offers free tuition to residents of the state and neighboring Native American tribes.
This month, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed Senate Bill 140 — the New Mexico Scholarship Act — making tuition free for most New Mexicans and for tribes. adjacent to the state.
“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 press release. “Signing this legislation sends a clear message to new Mexicans that we believe in them and the contributions they will make to their families and to the future of our great state.”
She signed the bill March 4 in a ceremony alongside students from Western New Mexico University in Silver City.
SB 140 took an existing free scholarship program for high school graduates and extended it to any resident seeking higher education and professional certification, said Stephanie Montoya, head of the public information for the New Mexico Department of Higher Education, in an interview with The newspaper.
“This is the largest tuition-free scholarship program in the United States,” she said. “The benefits are enormous for New Mexico families and our economy.”
The free tuition program is available for recent high school graduates, returning adult learners, part-time students, vocational certificates, associate and bachelor’s degrees, and summer schools.
To be eligible, students must reside in the state for at least 12 consecutive months, enroll in at least six credit hours at a public college or university, and continue enrolling each consecutive semester.
New Mexico officials pushed to expand the free tuition program beyond high school graduates when they reviewed data and found that the majority of college students were over 26 and did not were not eligible.
“Now you don’t have to be a recent graduate,” Montoya said.
New Mexico’s free tuition program is also available to Native American tribes contiguous to the state, which are included in the definition of “eligible resident,” Montoya said. Reservations that touch the New Mexico border include the Utes Mountain Utes, Southern Utes, and Navajo.
New Mexico’s General Appropriations Act earmarks $75 million for the free tuition program in 2022, which could support up to 35,000 students starting this fall, more than half of all undergraduate students from New Mexico. Of the funding, $63 million was provided by the US Federal Bailout Act.
In addition to covering full tuition and fees at public colleges and universities across the state, the free tuition program allows students to rack up federal aid such as Pell grants, local scholarships, and private scholarships to help pay for books, materials, housing, food, transportation. , childcare and other university fees.
The Legislature’s continued funding and support of the tuition program year after year looks promising, Montoya said, and is seen as an investment in the state. In New Mexico, a quarter of residents have no education beyond high school.
“A more talented workforce will meet the emerging needs of our state,” Montoya said. “There’s a lot of return on investment.”
She said New Mexico had created 10,000 jobs over the past 10 years with an annual salary of $90,000, and almost all of them needed training beyond high school.
Saving money on tuition also increases disposable income for state residents and fuels the economy. Higher education creates a better-employed workforce, which reduces pressure on public support programs.
Student and educator advocacy helped push the bill past the finish line, Montoya said.
“There was an outpouring of relief and excitement from students and families when the bill passed,” she said. “Now they don’t have to worry about how to pay for college next year.”
“With the Opportunity Scholarship Act, New Mexico has made history and set a national example of how states can break down barriers for students around the world,” said the Secretary of the Department of higher education, Stephanie Rodriguez, in the press release. “This would not have been possible without the leadership of Governor 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 . definitely changing the game for every New Mexican who wants to pursue higher education.
Senate Bill 140 was sponsored by Sen. Liz Stefanics and Rep. Joy Garratt, both Democrats.
“I am an adult learner who actually graduated from college taking six credits per semester, so this bill is personally important to me,” Garratt said in the statement. “Working together…we’ve laid a strong foundation in early childhood education, K-12 education, and now, higher education. I know this will change the lives of thousands of New Mexicans.
There are 29 participating two- and four-year colleges for the free tuition program. No application is required. If you are an eligible student enrolled in a public New Mexico college or university, the financial aid office of your school choice will work to apply the scholarship.
More information is available at www.freecollegenm.org.