Source: The Seattle Times
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — As universities across the United States face steep enrollment declines, New Mexico’s government is embarking on a pioneering experiment to fight that trend: tuition-free higher education for all state residents.
After President Joe Biden’s plan for universal free community college failed to gain traction in Congress, New Mexico, one of the nation’s poorest states, has emerged with perhaps the most ambitious plans as states scramble to come up with their own initiatives.
A new state law approved in a rare show of bipartisanship allocates almost 1% of the state’s budget toward covering tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, community colleges and tribal colleges. All state residents from new high school graduates to adults enrolling part-time will be eligible regardless of family income. The program is also open to immigrants regardless of their immigration status.
Some legislators and other critics question whether there should have been income caps and whether the state, newly flush with oil and gas revenue, can secure long-term funding to support the program beyond its first year. The legislation, which seeks to treat college as a public resource similar to primary and secondary education, takes effect in July.
Although nearly half the states have embraced similar initiatives that seek to cover at least some tuition expenses for some students, New Mexico’s law goes further by covering tuition and fees before other scholarships and sources of financial aid are applied, enabling students to use those other funds for expenses such as lodging, food or child care.
“The New Mexico program is very close to ideal,” said Michael Dannenberg, vice president of strategic initiatives and higher education policy at the nonprofit advocacy group Education Reform Now. Considering the state’s income levels and available resources, he added that New Mexico’s program is among the most generous in the country.