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More bang for your buck at NM’s colleges and universities

The University of New Mexico is one of two Division I universities in the state. The other is New Mexico State University. (Courtesy of UNM)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It is no secret that when it comes to lists about education, New Mexico is usually ranked near the bottom.

But a recent report by shows that there is at least one list where the state fares fairly well.

New Mexico is the second-least expensive state for college tuition in the United States, with an average in-state tuition of just $7,154 a year and an average out-of-state tuition of $10,695.

And, as many college administrators in the state pointed out, college students in the state are getting more bang for the buck.

The report examined all public and private colleges in each state that offer bachelor’s degrees and higher. Because of the correlation between high in-state tuition and high out-of-state tuition, the rankings were eventually based only on in-state tuition.

The report also looked at the net cost by state, which includes in-state tuition for first-time students plus living expenses, books and supplies, but not including scholarships and aid.

And now there’s the prospect of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s recently proposed New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, which would cover the tuition gap left after a student receives financial aid, grants and scholarships, including the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship.

So in reality, most college-bound New Mexico high school graduates could qualify for essentially free college when staying in state.

‘Reach the masses’

“For us here at New Mexico State University, we’ve deliberately kept tuition low,” says Renay Scott, NMSU vice president of student success. “As a land-grant university, we’re here to reach the masses. In-state and even regionally and to some extent nationally, we’re trying to reach students in low income, first generation, minority students.”

It’s a theme that runs throughout the state’s colleges.

“It’s a goal for us,” says James Holloway, provost at the University of New Mexico. “New Mexico is not a wealthy state. We work really hard to make sure tuition can remain affordable so that students all across the state can come here. It’s helpful that the state has been supportive for higher education. Certainly this year, they have been very supportive. That helps to keep the costs to the student down. I think that’s really important to have that support.”

The state’s two Division I universities, UNM and NMSU, are pretty much the standard bearers in terms of in-state tuition, with UNM costing $3,777 per semester (fall 2019) and NMSU costing $3,905, according to their websites.

New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology was ranked by Forbes as 56th in the nation for best value colleges. (Courtesy of NM Tech)

At New Mexico Institute of Mining & Technology in Socorro, the tuition costs are marginally higher at $4,079 per semester, but the buck is stretched even further.

Forbes ranked New Mexico Tech 56th in its ranking of best value colleges for 2019. By contrast, NMSU is 181 and New Mexico is 213.

But by additional comparison, such notable universities as Penn State is 211, Kentucky 222, Alabama 229, Southern Methodist 240, Pittsburgh 268 and George Washington 287.

UNM, NMSU and Tech are the only three New Mexico schools included in the top 299 in the listing.

Research, grants

New Mexico Tech has a national reputation for developing leading graduates in many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) disciplines, says Dr. Stephen Wells, university president.

“If you look at New Mexico Tech in terms of the amount of money it gets from the state as opposed to money that comes in from external research and grants, we get $27 million from the state and we get $51 (million) to $55 million in research contracts and grants,” he says.

“We can leverage those kinds of funds to support students,” Wells adds. “Many times, freshmen are doing research projects. Those research projects allow them great value, because when they graduate, they have incredible experience and sometimes already have (government) clearances.”

When it comes to the state’s other four-year universities, Western New Mexico in Silver City costs $3,547. Eastern New Mexico in Portales is $3,225. Northern New Mexico College in EspaƱola is $2,382. New Mexico Highlands in Las Vegas is $3,084.

“At New Mexico Highlands, we believe in the ability of a college degree to transform the lives of our graduates, their families and communities,” says Sean Weaver, Highlands spokesman. “Because of this belief and our commitment to an accessible education, current and past Highlands administrations and boards of regents have worked hard to ensure students can graduate from the university with the least loan debt as possible.”