Legislators would work out details of 'free college' plan - Albuquerque Journal

Legislators would work out details of ‘free college’ plan

Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal

Requiring colleges and universities to pump resources into student retention or setting a limit on future tuition increases are possible strategies state officials will consider as they try to make free college a reality in New Mexico.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham last month surprised the top academic officials in the state when she announced plans to create the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, which would provide all New Mexicans, regardless of income, with tuition-free college.

The proposed scholarship would work alongside existing financial aid and scholarships, including the Lottery Scholarship, and cover whatever tuition and fees remain for a college-bound student. State higher education officials estimate they can achieve their goal at an annual cost of between $25 million and $35 million a year to help about 50,000 traditional students going to four-year colleges, as well as older adults attending community colleges.

The plan must be approved by the Legislature, which convenes in January for a 30-day session. And some of the details, it appears, will be worked out by lawmakers.

“This isn’t totally ready to roll out yet,” said Higher Education Secretary Kate O’Neill.

O’Neill told the Journal this week that state officials are aware of issues that need to be resolved, including long-term funding and eligibility for the program. Lujan Grisham has said she wants both traditional students who enroll in any public college or university within 16 months of graduating from a state high school or earn an equivalency, as well as adults who want to attend a two-year community college to be able to use the scholarship. Students would have to maintain a 2.5 GPA.

Paul Gessing, president of the Rio Grande Foundation, a libertarian-leaning research institute, has several questions.

“We’re concerned about the cost initially as well as down the road,” he said. “What restraints will be in place to ensure the institutes of higher learning don’t go on an empire-building spree with this new source of guaranteed money rolling into their coffers? These graduates … are they going to be taking jobs in New Mexico and paying taxes in New Mexico? We’ve seen all the states around us attracting large numbers of New Mexico students. Are we really spending all this money to train the future workforce in Texas, Arizona, etc.?”

Some of those questions won’t be answered until lawmakers convene, O’Neill said.

The announcement of the scholarship was a surprise to the top academics in the state. University of New Mexico Provost James Holloway and New Mexico State University Chancellor Dan Arvizu said they were aware state officials were planning an announcement aimed at improving access to higher education. But they said in recent interviews that they weren’t aware of the full extent of the governor’s idea until she announced it.

“From the governor’s point of view, she set the aspirations really high. I’m hedging a little bit. We don’t have all the details worked out, and we need to sharpen our pencils and say, ‘If not this, then that,’ ” O’Neill said. “Quite honestly, we’re still running scenarios to figure out … terms of cost.”

Another issue, O’Neill said, is the prospect of ill-prepared students enrolling in college because of the Opportunity Scholarship only to wash out. There could be a requirement that higher education institutions put additional resources into student retention programs to qualify for Opportunity Scholarship funding.

“We have to keep making sure we’re incentivizing retention and not just recruitment,” said Carmen Lopez-Wilson, deputy secretary of higher education.

Colleges and universities in New Mexico could also face requirements about tuition.

The Opportunity Scholarship would cover whatever tuition costs remained after a student received existing aid and scholarships. So what would stop UNM from raising its tuition and fees, especially if its prospective students and their families wouldn’t feel the pain of the increase because the state was picking up the tab?

“There’s an ecology to the situation. We’re going to ask for a limit of any tuition increases,” O’Neill said. “We’re aware of that issue, and it’s not like, ‘Here’s a blank check.’ ”

It’s not clear whether lawmakers will try to create a long-term funding source for the scholarship. The state could create a permanent fund and use the annual interest to fund the scholarships in years when oil and gas revenue is low.

State lawmakers will have an estimated $907 million in “new” money available in the coming budget year for spending on public schools, roads, health care and other programs, according to revenue estimates. The additional revenue is due largely to an oil boom in the southeastern part of the state.

“We’ve got to get people not only access to college but get them through college,” O’Neill said. “The state is going to step forward in terms of access. That’s the (Opportunity Scholarship) initiative. The need on the part of the colleges, then, is making sure all the wraparound services, all the retention services, are in there to make sure the students not only get into college but get through college.”

Home » Journal North » Journal North Recent News » Legislators would work out details of ‘free college’ plan


Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email yourstory@abqjournal.com

taboola desktop

1
Judge orders lender to pay NM customers $4.3M
ABQnews Seeker
Company didn't use lawyers to file ... Company didn't use lawyers to file suits against borrowers
2
PNM named in new McBride Fire suit
ABQnews Seeker
Suit is second to allege PNM ... Suit is second to allege PNM and contractor negligently failed to prevent tree from falling on utility lines
3
Muslim candidate cancels public appearances
2022 election
Killings raise safety concerns Killings raise safety concerns
4
County may OK pepper spray for employee safety
ABQnews Seeker
According to proposal, county recognizes employees ... According to proposal, county recognizes employees 'may encounter unsafe circumstances during their ingress and egress to Alvarado Square'
5
Man arrested in suspected DWI crash that killed couple
ABQnews Seeker
The U.S. Marshals on Monday arrested ... The U.S. Marshals on Monday arrested a man who Albuquerque police had charged in a crash that killed a couple last summer. Omar Martinez, ...
6
Virgil Ortiz set to unveil Meow Wolf installation
ABQnews Seeker
Throughout his career, Virgil Ortiz has ... Throughout his career, Virgil Ortiz has pushed boundaries through art. The Cochiti Pueblo artist is teaming up with Meow Wolf to create a permanent ...
7
State offers wildfire assistance grants
ABQnews Seeker
Small businesses and self-employed New Mexicans ... Small businesses and self-employed New Mexicans who suffered financial losses due to wildfires and floods this year are eligible for grants through a new ...
8
New Mexico needs every worker it can get
ABQnews Seeker
Many factors lead to state’s dismal ... Many factors lead to state’s dismal workforce participation rates
9
ABQ homicide detectives investigating fatal shooting
ABQnews Seeker
Albuquerque police are investigating after a ... Albuquerque police are investigating after a maintenance worker was killed Sunday night while doing a random check on vacant apartments in the complex where ...