Governor signs bill expanding New Mexico’s free college program | Local News

The phone calls Greg Romero began to receive about Senate Bill 140 made him realize his potential.

The legislation would essentially offer free tuition to New Mexico students at state schools.

Romero, president of the Associated Students at the University of New Mexico, knew this, he said, but he didn’t fully grasp the power of the measure until he heard from old friends who had long since dropped out of college to work or support their families and were suddenly considering going back to school.

“They were like, ‘I can go back to college now. I can get this degree that I started and stopped because I had to go to work because I had a family,” Romero said Friday, moments after Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed the law.

SB 140, an extension of the New Mexico Scholarship, will allow many New Mexico residents to attend college tuition-free. Funds included in the state budget for the program would cover all tuition and fees for degree-seeking undergraduate students attending a two- or four-year-old state or tribal college or university. years in New Mexico.

Before signing the bill at Western New Mexico University in Silver City, Lujan Grisham said the legislation would not only give more residents the opportunity to pursue higher education, but also ease a burden that too many neo- Mexicans currently carry: student debt.

“Saddling students with insurmountable debt means they can’t start businesses, can’t buy houses; they don’t really have a choice about their future,” Lujan Grisham said in an interview after the signing.

That debt creates “incredible pressure” on students trying to get ahead after college, she said.

The Federal Reserve estimates that in the second quarter of 2021, Americans owed $1.73 trillion in student loans. A 2020 report from the Institute for College Access and Success using data from 2018-2019 indicates that the average student debt for New Mexicans is close to $21,000.

The governor noted that a college degree can lead to better-paying jobs, even in trades like carpentry, electrical work and truck driving. Getting a certificate or degree in these trades can lead to jobs that pay well over $100,000 a year, she said. “That’s a lot of money you’re going to make.”

Santa Fe Community College President Becky Rowley said in Workforce Today, “Most students need some type of education or training to be able to get a job in a field that suits them. will provide a kind of upward mobility and really productive, well-paid work. career.”

SB 140 will allow students to attend school part-time if they have other obligations or return to school if they have dropped out at some point, Rowley said. She added that she thinks the scholarship will lead to more New Mexico residents enrolling in colleges.

The bill has eligibility criteria. Students are expected to take between six and 18 credit hours during the fall and spring semesters. They should also maintain a cumulative grade point average of 2.5.

Students who drop out of a college program or skip a semester would lose access to funding. And the scholarship is not available to New Mexico residents who have already earned a bachelor’s degree.

Lujan Grisham first introduced a free college tuition plan in 2019. The proposal, estimated at the time at $26 million, met with some resistance from administrators and lawmakers who believed that university costs could explode as a result.

Lawmakers allocated $17 million for the program in the 2020 regular session, but only made it available to community college students. At a special session in June, the amount was reduced to $10 million in the face of a drop in revenue largely caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

So far, more than 10,000 scholarships have been awarded, according to the state Department of Higher Education.

House Bill 2, the state budget bill, includes $63 million in one-time funding to launch the scholarship program in July, according to the bill’s fiscal impact report. The program would also draw an additional $24.5 million from existing college endowments. The governor has not yet signed the budget.

Julia Furry, director of automotive technology at Santa Fe Community College, said the new scholarship is “huge” for students who feel they can’t afford college.

“Now with this opportunity scholarship, it’s going to relieve a student’s stress,” Furry said. “For them it will be, ‘Oh well, I paid for school. I don’t have to work two jobs. I can focus on my studies, and the end result is a great degree and a well-paying job. “

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