New Mexico residents may get tuition-free college

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham outlined Friday provisions of a legislative proposal to expand tuition-free public college to more students from New Mexico.

The governor is backing a bill that would combine and increase state scholarship funding to cover all tuition and fees for in-state college students who maintain a C-plus grade point average. It would apply to part- or full-time attendance at any New Mexico public college, university or tribal college.

Sen. Liz Stefanics of Santa Fe and Rep. Joy Garratt of Albuquerque, both Democrats, are sponsoring the bill during a 30-day legislative session that ends on Feb. 17.

Budget recommendations from the governor’s office would devote $85.5 million to the scholarship project — enough to pay for tuition and fees for 35,000 students pursuing a variety of certificates and undergraduate degrees.

Scholarships that are currently available to recent high school graduates would become available to applicants of all ages.

““The Opportunity Scholarship Act will ensure college affordability by establishing an all-encompassing free college package for New Mexicans looking to enroll at a public college or university in the state,” Garratt said in a news release.

New Mexico’s scholarship from lottery ticket sales once covered 100% of tuition costs for many local students, but that subsidy has been reduced over the years. Lawmakers tightened eligibility and made other changes due to demand, rising tuition costs and the volatility of lottery revenues.

The scholarship figures prominently in a proposed $1 billion increase in state general fund spending for the fiscal year starting July 1, 2022, bringing annual spending to $8.5 billion.

State economists foresee a $1.6 billion general fund surplus for the coming fiscal year in excess of current spending obligations. The windfall is linked to surging oil and natural gas production along with the lingering effects of federal pandemic relief and approved infrastructure spending.