Source: Albuquerque Journal
Whether you want to return to college to become a teacher or go to vocational school to learn the craft of welding, there’s never been a more affordable time for career advancement in New Mexico.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham recently signed into law the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship Act, which in tandem with the Lottery Success Scholarship makes college free for most New Mexicans. Unlike other programs, under the Opportunity Scholarship both recent high school graduates and returning adult learners are eligible. So are part-time students, those seeking career training certificates and those pursuing associate and bachelor degrees.
Opportunity scholarships, which started with a focus on full-time students at two-year colleges, now cover full tuition and fees at in-state public colleges and universities, including summer courses, up to 160 credit hours or bachelor’s degree, whichever comes first. The scholarships allow students to stack other forms of financial aid to pay for other college expenses such as textbooks, labs, room and board, transportation and child care. They are key to helping students graduate without a mountain of student loan debt.
The governor, who made free college one of her top priorities in 2020, says expanding the program makes it the most wide-reaching state scholarship program in the nation. That says something about how we value higher education in New Mexico as a means to financial independence, and it should be a source of state pride.
“A fully funded Opportunity Scholarship opens the door for every New Mexican to reach higher, strengthening our economy, our families and our communities,” she says. “Signing this legislation sends a clear message to New Mexicans we believe in them and the contributions they will make for their families and the future of our great state.”
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the higher the level of educational attainment, the higher the average weekly earnings. New Mexicans who have thought about getting a certificate or going or returning to college should know financial barriers are down and consider enrolling in a public college or university here this fall.
The state budget approved by the governor and legislators directs $75 million to the Opportunity Scholarship program, which the Governor’s Office says could support up to 35,000 students beginning this fall. That’s over half of all undergraduate students in New Mexico.
The opportunity scholarship program’s strength is that it targets non-traditional students who aren’t eligible for New Mexico’s lottery scholarship program, which is designed for recent high school graduates who are full-time students. The new state budget also earmarks $130 million to bolster lottery scholarships so those recipients have all tuition costs covered for the next four years, fulfilling that program’s original promise. The lottery scholarship paid full tuition for eligible students from 1996 to 2015 but was reduced to levels as low as 60% in 2017 due to rising tuition rates, lagging lottery sales and a lack of state funding.
With state colleges in communities across the state, the expansion of opportunity scholarships and full funding for lottery scholarships can provide opportunities like never before. The more graduates we have with skilled training certificates and academic degrees, the better prepared New Mexicans of all ages will be to achieve financial independence, and the better set we’ll be as a state to prosper and compete in an increasingly skilled global marketplace.