Commentary: New Mexico’s inadequate public investment in higher education over the last decade has contributed to rising tuition often leaving students with little choice but to take on more debt or give up on their dreams of going to college. The problem is especially serious for Black, Hispanic, and low-income students.
New Mexico is one of nine states that cut higher education spending dramatically (by more than 30 percent per student) between the 2008 and 2018 school years according to Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity, a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP).
2008 - 2018 Cuts to Higher Education Funding (adjusted for inflation):
· New Mexico Average: 34 percent per student (7th worst in nation) or $4,792 per student (2nd worst in nation)
· U.S. Average: 16 percent per student or $1,502 per student
Cuts to higher education have helped drive up the cost of attending public colleges and universities. Between 2008 and 2018, the average tuition at public four-year institutions in New Mexico grew by 38 percent, or $1,899 – outpacing the national average growth of 36 percent.
“Pushing the cost of a college education onto students and their families will not make our state stronger,” said James Jimenez, executive director of New Mexico Voices for Children. “Only by adequately investing in higher education will we be able to create a New Mexico in which everyone has the opportunity to succeed.”
Americans’ slow income growth has worsened the situation. While the average tuition bill increased by 36 percent between 2008 and 2018, median incomes grew by just over 2 percent during that time frame. Nationally, the average tuition at a four-year public college accounted for 16.5 percent of median household income in 2017, up from 14 percent in 2008.
While the cost of a college education in New Mexico eats up a smaller share (14 percent) of household median income than for the nation as a whole (16.5 percent), disparities exist for Black and Hispanic families. In 2017, the average tuition and fees at a public four-year university accounted for:
· 12 percent of median household income for White New Mexico families
· 20 percent of median household income for Black New Mexico families
· 17 percent of median household income for Hispanic New Mexico families
“The rising cost of college risks blocking one of America’s most important paths to economic mobility. And while these costs hinder progress for everyone, Black, Hispanic, and low-income students continue to face the most significant barriers to opportunity,” said Michael Mitchell, senior policy analyst at CBPP and lead author of the report.
Federal and state financial aid has failed to bridge the gap created by rising tuition and relatively stagnant incomes. New Mexico’s lottery scholarship now only covers a portion of tuition and the college affordability fund was drained to close budget shortfalls elsewhere. As a result, the share of students graduating with debt has risen. Between the 2008 and 2015 school years, the share of students graduating with debt from a public four-year institution rose from 55 percent to 59 percent nationally. The average amount of debt also increased during this period. On average, bachelor’s degree recipients at four-year public schools saw their debt grow by 26 percent (from $21,226 to $27,000). By contrast, the average amount of debt rose by only about 1 percent in the six years prior to the recession.
A large and growing share of future jobs will require college-educated workers. Sufficient public investment in higher education would help New Mexico develop the skilled and diverse workforce it needs to match the jobs of the future.
New Mexico has ignored these long-term economic demands, instead directing public resources to tax cuts that overwhelmingly benefitted out-of-state corporations.
“To succeed in tomorrow’s economy, New Mexico must strengthen its future workforce by investing today in higher education. We can only do that by ensuring we are raising enough revenue,” said Jimenez.
Unkept Promises: State Cuts to Higher Education Threaten Access and Equity is on the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities website: https://www.cbpp.org/research/state-budget-and-tax/unkept-promises-state-cuts-to-higher-education-threaten-access-and
New Mexico Voices for Children is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization advocating for policies to improve the health and well-being of New Mexico's children, families and communities. Our fiscal policy work is funded by grants from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the McCune Charitable Foundation, the WK Kellogg Foundation, and the Working Poor Families Project.
625 Silver Ave. SW, Suite 195, Albuquerque, NM 87102; 505-244-9505 (p); www.nmvoices.org