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New Mexico Legislature considers college tuition funding

February 5, 2021 GMT

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — State senators are considering a bill to provide $30 million in subsidies for attendees of two-year colleges and a pilot program to help college dropouts finish their degrees.

Of that, $26 million would be drawn from the general fund to support students of two-year colleges through the Opportunity Scholarship. The scholarship covers tuition and fees before federal funding is awarded.

Stephanie Rodriguqez, acting secretary of the New Mexico Higher Education Department, says in an op-ed in the Albuquerque Journal that allows students “the option to apply other financial aid they receive, such as federal Pell grants, to other expenses that often stand in the way of attaining a degree.”

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Colleges around the country have seen declining enrollment during the pandemic as students struggle to afford tuition, and university officials in New Mexico have feared fewer students will attend fall classes.

A hearing for the bill, SB 135, had been scheduled for Friday but was postponed to next week.

As written, it also allocates $4 million from the general fund for a pilot project to support Lottery Scholarship students who have left four-year colleges without finishing their degrees.

The Lottery Scholarship covered around $4,500 in tuition costs for New Mexicans in the current school year or about half the cost of attending the University of New Mexico. The award was 100% in the past.

The Opportunity Scholarship was conceived of last year before the pandemic at a time when state oil revenue was high and Democratic presidential politics drew attention to the idea of free college for all students in two-year and four-year colleges.

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Attanasio is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues.