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Lujan Grisham announces plan to make college tuition-free for New Mexico students

Sep 18, 2019

Credit Office of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham

SANTA FE – Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham on Wednesday announced the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, a new program that will, in conjunction with existing state and federal scholarship and grant infrastructure, provide for 100 percent of undergraduate tuition and fees at New Mexico institutions of higher education for eligible in-state resident students.  Here is a statement from the Governor’s office:

Speaking at the 2019 New Mexico Higher Education Summit at Central New Mexico Community College, Gov. Lujan Grisham announced plans for the new scholarship program that would impact an estimated 55,000 New Mexico students across the state’s 29 public institutions of higher education for the fall 2020 semester, a population that includes recent high school graduates, students who have earned a high school diploma equivalent such as a GED and returning adult learners. 

Designed as a “last-dollar” program, the Opportunity Scholarship would effectively cover any tuition and fees not paid for by federal grants or the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship, which typically leaves an unpaid tuition gap between 25 and 40 percent for college and university students, depending on the student and institution.

The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, to be administered by the New Mexico Higher Education Department, would make New Mexico only the second state in the country to provide full tuition coverage to its residents; New York is the other. 

The Opportunity Scholarship will also cover tuition and fees at New Mexico’s network of two-year community colleges; New Mexico would become the 21st state to provide full two-year tuition coverage at community colleges. The program’s community college component would provide for both recent high school graduates seeking to attend community college and returning adult learners. 

Intended to dramatically expand access to higher education to underserved populations all across New Mexico, the Opportunity Scholarship underscores the governor’s commitment to reinvesting in the full spectrum of education, from early childhood outcomes to career and technical training for New Mexico’s workforce of the future. 

In-state residents of New Mexico with a high school diploma or high school equivalency will be eligible with a maintained minimum GPA; students will be able to apply for and access the scholarship after enrolling in a public, post-secondary institution. 

"This program is an absolute game-changer for New Mexico,” Gov. Lujan Grisham said. “Higher education in this state, a victim of the recession, has been starved in recent years. We are pivoting to a robust reinvestment in higher learning -- specifically and directly in our students. By covering the last dollar of tuition and fees, by making college significantly more accessible to New Mexicans of every income, of every background, of every age, we are putting students first. We are creating meaningful opportunity for all. 

“In the short term, we'll see better enrollment, better student success,” the governor added. “In the long run, we'll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents, a better trained and better compensated workforce. In the same way I insist on a transformation of early childhood outcomes in this state, I insist on the greatest higher education environment in the United States, and New Mexico is taking a giant leap forward with this proposal. I look forward to working with the Legislature to build support for this life-changing investment in New Mexico’s future.”

​"This is the most exciting day in my 25-year career in New Mexico higher education," said Higher Education Secretary Kate O'Neill. "That’s because students are the beneficiaries of this incredible proposal. Through this program, with the support of the Legislature, we are making a meaningful investment in our students. We're broadening opportunity for so many New Mexicans who want to learn, who want to get a head start on a great career, who want to provide for themselves, their families and our communities. I'm thrilled by the governor's commitment to higher education, and I'm honored to have the chance to work to implement this new scholarship and other important initiatives to transform higher education in New Mexico."

The Higher Education Department, in coordination with the Public Education Department, will work with school districts and individual public schools all across the state to boost federal aid applications that will help make the Opportunity Scholarship sustainable for every New Mexican student.

The announcement of the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship follows other forward-thinking policy on higher education spearheaded by Gov. Lujan Grisham and Legislature in the 2019 legislative session, including a four percent raise for college and university staff and faculty that went into effect July 1; and renewed investments in future educators from bilingual and Native backgrounds and the implementation of more than $10 million in new scholarship funds for aspiring New Mexico teachers. In addition, the governor signed into law the creation of Centers of Excellence in biosciences, renewable energy, value-added agriculture and cyber security at four New Mexico institutions of higher education.

Credit NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu

Here is a statement from Dr. Dan Arvisu, Chancellor of New Mexico State University:

“We are excited about what today’s announcement means for students and their families as well as the future of higher education in New Mexico. We believe deeply in the value of higher education. No matter what socioeconomic background our students arrive from, attaining a degree positions them to earn higher salaries, to live healthier lives and to achieve greater successes than someone without a degree. In turn, this helps their families and lifts the communities where they live. We are eager to see where this endeavor can lead our state. Right now, we are assessing what implications this announcement may have for the entire NMSU system.”