During the 2022 legislative session, New Mexico passed a major expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship. … New Mexico already had a generous Lottery Scholarship program with fairly lenient academic criteria, but those with alternative education backgrounds, such as former students returning to college, are unable to qualify. The Opportunity Scholarship bridges that gap.
The Legislative Finance Committee released a fiscal impact report estimating a cost likely to exceed a whopping $100 million annually, with expectations to grow.
In the future, the scholarship fund itself will require regular replenishment. Specifically, $63 million was approved during the 2022 regular legislative session. This will cover the majority of the scholarship until June 2023, but the one-time financial source will have to be replaced next year.
Setting aside the merits of free college, New Mexico has long suffered from the interstate educational brain drain. While the information is dated, online job aggregator Zippia has reported New Mexico as among the worst performing states for retaining college graduates.
Almost 49% of students leave after getting their diploma. By contrast, Texas loses less than 20% of college graduates. This trend continues, and is reflected in a recent KOB poll.
Analyzing the breakdown of the survey results, 47% of New Mexicans aged 18-34 identified as being very likely to move away from New Mexico to improve their quality of life. Another 28% reported being somewhat likely to leave the state.
Considering this mass exodus of job-seeking, educated individuals and clear indications that this migration is set to continue, if not worsen, this begs the question: Why is New Mexico exporting one of its top investments?
Between the Lottery Scholarship and the Opportunity Scholarship, New Mexico is poised to invest over $130 million in higher education in one year, despite knowing these educated people are likely to move elsewhere.
Stop the brain drain with a focus on tackling the issues that drive New Mexicans to seek better lives out of state. New families will not commit to the Land of Enchantment without jobs, safety and education for their children. Jobs will not arrive without needed tax reform and safety for their employees. It is a vicious cycle.
Until such reforms can be delivered, New Mexico will continue to export its most valuable investment. In the end, what might be an opportunity for New Mexico students is turning out to be a huge loss for the state itself.
Patrick Brenner is president of the Southwest Public Policy Institute, a conservative think tank dedicated to improving the quality of life in the American Southwest by formulating, promoting and defending sound public policy solutions based on the principles of personal responsibility and individual freedom. He is a resident of Rio Rancho.