As the student body president at the University of New Mexico, I am the eyes and ears of administrators and lawmakers, and the voice of students. On a campus where our student body is divided on almost every topic, I have yet to find a consensus as universal as support for the Opportunity Scholarship.
In speaking with friends, colleagues and a number of UNM students, unencumbered access to higher education is one of the most impactful things to happen in their lifetimes. I have heard from students who have returned to UNM, where the Opportunity Scholarship means a second chance at their dream. Some students no longer have to work a second job and, to them, the scholarship funding means a good night’s sleep before that big physics test. Other students need a safety net that allows them to set aside money for graduate school, and this scholarship means a brighter future. For some of us, the Opportunity Scholarship means we can invest back into our campus and peers through student leadership – ultimately leading to a better UNM and a better New Mexico.
I cannot capture the breadth of what the Opportunity Scholarship means to New Mexican students, except to simply say: a lot. This scholarship is a reminder to the young people and returning learners that we are valuable. It feels special because this reminder – and promise to invest in us – is available to all New Mexicans.
The stories I hear from my student constituents rhyme with those I hear from my student government colleagues who are leaders at New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology and beyond. Student government leaders from every four-year college and university in New Mexico have jointly signed a letter in support of the Opportunity Scholarship. In this letter, we urge state legislators to fund – in full at $157 million – this essential piece of New Mexico’s future. It is our hope to see lawmakers double down and invest in the students of this state who want to pursue new heights and vertical movement in their working lives.
UNM sophomore Adriana Gutierrez shared her personal experience with the Opportunity Scholarship. “I was struggling to pay for college and, as a first-generation student, it is hard to explain to my parents why I owe almost $3,000 for school and I need it ASAP to register. Having the burden of the cost of attendance as a full-time student who is also working is a lot.” Gutierrez will test for her Emergency Medical Technician license in March and continue work in New Mexico. “The amount that I am able to do here is more than any other state when it comes to medicine. And, because I grew up here, it is my community and there are so many people that I want to give back to.”
For many of my peers, a college education is the first step in breaking the cycle of generational poverty. To all New Mexicans, this scholarship means hope. As a voice representing UNM and New Mexico students, I truly hope our state honors the promise of opportunity to students, because I am excited for the New Mexico we will see when it does.