In a country known for putting its students in debt before they can become professionally active, what the state of New Mexico is doing is unprecedented. The state government passed a law for its public university students to receive tuition-free education, starting July 1.
As reported by the Washington Examiner, residents who enroll in at least six credits will be able to work toward their certificate, associate’s, or bachelor’s degree completely free. As long as students maintain a GPA of 2.5 out of 4.0, they will be able to continue their “Opportunity Scholarship,” the titular name of the law. This applies to New Mexico’s 29 public colleges and universities.
“New Mexico is the first state to offer free college tuition for all residents,” Sen. Ben Lujan posted on social media Tuesday. “I’m proud that we have made higher education attainable for all, and I hope every other state will follow our lead.”
New Mexico’s decision follows the failure of President Biden’s plan for universal free community college. As the New York Times explained, this could be the most ambitious plan of any state in the country.
The new state law, passed in a rare show of bipartisanship, allocates nearly 1% of the state budget to cover tuition and fees at public colleges and universities, community colleges, and tribal colleges. From recent high school graduates to adults enrolling part-time, all state residents will be eligible regardless of family income. The program is also open to immigrants, regardless of immigration status.
“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, to the Times. Considering the state’s income levels and available resources, he added that New Mexico’s program is among the most generous in the country.
Dannenberg stressed that New Mexico goes beyond what larger, more prosperous states like Washington and Tennessee have already done. Other states’ programs typically limit tuition assistance to community colleges, exclude some residents based on family income or impose conditions that force students to work part-time.
This new strategy could radically change the quality of life for young Americans.
As reported by Forbes, new research suggests that the promise of free college can make a big difference in encouraging application and enrollment in higher education. The simple message of free college with no strings attached motivates students to go to college in a way that more complicated programs that promise free college if some conditions are met do not.
Professors researching the impact of the University of Michigan’s HAIL scholarship program have published a new working paper exploring how a free college guarantee influences application and enrollment. Their research shows that students who are guaranteed free tuition and fees for four years of attendance at the University of Michigan are more likely to apply and enroll at the institution if admitted. All of the students studied were from low-income households and were high-achieving students who met Michigan’s minimum admissions criteria.
New Mexico could then be an experiment that opens the door to democratizing education in a country where it is more urgent than ever.