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Tuition-free college will soon be a reality

With the semester coming to an end, students are getting prepared for what comes next including how to pay for school again in the fall. To help, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act, or Senate Bill 140, was signed into law on March 4 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. The bill is among the most expansive tuition-free college bills in the country.

NMSU students sit, study, eat and hang out inside the Corbett Center Student Union Monday, April 25, 2022. New Mexico Senate Bill 140, which will provide tuition-free college for New Mexico undergraduates, officially goes into effect July 1. (Photo by Selema Graham/Kokopelli)

The bill will go into effect July 1, 2022, which is after the start of all summer sessions. With a total of $85.5 million from the general fund given, the act will combine the Opportunity, Lottery, College Affordability, and Legislative Endowment scholarship programs into one large one that covers all tuition and fees for about 35,000 students, or half of all undergraduate students. 

According to the New Mexico Higher Education Department website, students are eligible if they are “an established New Mexico resident and plan to enroll in at least six credit hours at a public college or university in [New Mexico] toward a training certificate, associate degree, or bachelor’s degree,” and must maintain a 2.5 GPA. There is no official application for the Opportunity Scholarship, but if you are eligible, the financial aid office at any New Mexico university should be able to work with students to award the scholarship. 

“Being able to go to school only having to worry about my education and not worry about how I am going to pay for it would be such a blessing.”

Leigh Anne Muñoz, a freshman majoring in journalism and media studies, said she knows that the scholarship could pay for her tuition and help her stay out of debt, and she said she is excited for it. “I think it would benefit anyone who is not wanting to go to college because of the money,” Muñoz said. But Muñoz believes the Opportunity Scholarship Act might not be all good. “It could cause major debt for New Mexico if not used right,” she said.

Mackenzie Cole, a senior in elementary education who needs another year still, said she doesn’t know much about the Opportunity Scholarship, but knows that it is would help New Mexico residents pay for school. Cole said she knows many students who could benefit from this, saying that not having the extra expense of paying for school would help them focus on school and doing well. “Being able to go to school only having to worry about my education and not worry about how I am going to pay for it would be such a blessing,” Cole said.

Though Cole said she likes the bill overall, she worries about the effect it might have on the quality of education. “I might worry how a free education might affect the quality of education or the allocation of available funds for the school,” she said. “Would if affect extracurricular programs, sports, arts or other activities that are funded by the school?” 

Ernesto Cisneros, a junior majoring in journalism and media studies, said that he doesn’t know much about the Opportunity Scholarship Act, and feels that there is a lot of confusion about who qualifies and who doesn’t. Cisneros said that the Opportunity Scholarship might “[give] an unfair advantage to those who are less likely to try academically versus those who try and can’t get scholarships or don’t qualify.”

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