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Free college tuition could soon be reality

Free tuition may soon be possible for in-state students attending public colleges and universities in New Mexico based on actions taken at the second session of New Mexico’s 54th legislature that adjourned Feb. 20 in Santa Fe.

The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, proposed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, was passed in the form of a committee substitute by both the New Mexico House Education Committee 11-2 and the Senate Education Committee 5-2.

The New Mexico State Capitol building in Santa Fe, New Mexico, (aka the Roundouse), is home to the New Mexico state legislature. The second session of New Mexico’s 54th legislature just adjourned Feb. 20, 2020. (Photo by Einar Einarsson Kvaran courtesy of WikiCommons)

A $7.6 billion state budget bill was passed Feb. 20 that includes an initial $17 million allocation for the Opportunity Scholarship and a 3.2% budget increase for the NMSU system. The deadline for Grisham to sign legislation is this Wednesday, March 11, at which time any legislation not acted upon by the governor is pocket vetoed.

Many university leaders from all over the state attended the House Education Committee meeting on Feb. 10 and spoke in support of the scholarship. According to an article published in the Albuquerque Journal, NMSU Chancellor Dan Arvizu said he backs the scholarship, but voiced concern about long-term funding needed in order to maintain the program.

“We do not want to be in a position where we make a commitment to a cohort of students, only to not be able to provide that funding in the future,” Arvizu said.

According to the New Mexico Higher Education Department, the Opportunity Scholarship is s “middle-dollar” scholarship that would cover the tuition and fee gap that remains after the Lottery Scholarship and other state scholarships have been applied, but before any federal Pell Grant, GI Bill, or institutional and private scholarship money is applied.

NMSU President John Floros indicated he supports the program. “NMSU commends Gov. Lujan Grisham for her commitment to the Opportunity Scholarship, which aims to ease the financial burden on students and their families.

“Some of the best advocates for programs like these are students, and I encourage every NMSU student to follow legislative issues,” Floros said.

Based on a Feb. 12 press release from the Office of the Governor, Grisham said, “Our proposal to expand access to higher education for New Mexicans has broad support — from universities, from students, from parents and educators all across the state. This is one of the most meaningful positive steps we can take toward a robust cradle-to-career educational system.”

The scholarship is scheduled to be implemented in phases starting with the fall 2020 semester. Initially, it will be available to in-state students pursuing a vocational certificate or two-year degree. Phase two will begin in 2021, at which time students attending four-year colleges will be able to use it. After both phases are implemented, 55,000 New Mexico students are expected to benefit from the program.

Grisham also indicated the program is aimed at keeping New Mexicans in the state. “With the Opportunity Scholarship, we are establishing concrete pathways for New Mexicans who want to stay here, attain skills here and launch a fulfilling career here. I am very glad to see lawmakers joining the march, and I look forward to the next steps,” Grisham said.

According to the 2020 NMSU Legislative Priorities Book, other items NMSU brought to the legislative session included fiscal year 2021 General Obligation Bond and capital outlay requests including $25 million to plan, design, construct, renovate, furnish and equip renovations, additions, demolition and new construction for the agriculture district on the main campus. This includes phase two of the Agricultural Modernization and Educational Facilities project and Agriculture Science Center improvements.

An additional $3 million was requested for the planning and design of Agriculture Science Centers statewide, to include the re-roofing of buildings and site improvements at the NMSU main campus in Las Cruces.

Finally, approximately $3.4 million was requested for renovations, upgrades and replacements for the Milton Hall Data Center.

The GO Bond bill that was passed, SB 207, provides $30.4 million for the NMSU system, while allocating $24 million specifically for the aforementioned main campus project requests and more than $1 million apiece for each of NMSU’s branch campuses.

The capital outlay bill, HB 349, provides $8.6 million for the entire NMSU system.

Based on a preliminary summary of the 2020 legislative session, NMSU is set to receive about $216.6 million in general appropriations for this next fiscal year. That’s an increase of $6.6 million, or about 3.2%, above the FY20 level.

According to the same report, the state has also appropriated funding to provide faculty and staff of two‐ and four‐year public postsecondary educational institutions with an average salary increase of 4%.

For more information about the Opportunity Scholarship as well as eligibility requirements, visit the New Mexico Higher Education Department online. Also, visit the NMSU Financial Aid and Scholarship Services office to learn how to apply.

For more information on NMSU’s 2020 legislative priorities, visit the NMSU Office of Government Relations. 

One Comment

  1. Kathy Hines

    Oh wow, this is awesome . I am excite that this is a possibility. Great job reporting Felicia.

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