In recent years, the rallying cry for the Left inside and outside of academia, and on college and university campuses, has been “free college tuition.” Many left-wing, liberal, and progressive politicians have made free college tuition a key part of their election platforms and campaign rhetoric, which has been received with open arms by today’s college students.
Now, Inside Higher Ed reported that New Mexico’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, asked the New Mexico state legislature to fund a free college tuition program. The program is designed as a scholarship program, called, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, and would make New Mexico the second state after New York to cover tuition for state residents for four years at all in-state public colleges and universities.
Carmen Lopez-Wilson, who is in the deputy secretary of state’s higher education department, said that “[t]his is an unprecedented opportunity for students to attend college tuition- and fee-free.”
The scholarship, if it is approved, is available for high school graduates, GED earners, returning adults, and undocumented students (which is Associated Press terminology for students who are in the United States illegally and without proper immigration paperwork). The scholarship program also admits adults who were enrolled in college before and dropped out and are expected to attend college on a part-time basis. The grade point average (GPA) requirement is a 2.5 GPA, which is about a B-minus student.
The governor’s office expects at least 55,000 students to participate in the scholarship program entering fall 2020, costing between $25-$35 million.
Ironically, the scholarship program does not help low-income students. The program is a “last-dollar program,” which Inside Higher Ed says will “cover tuition and fees for students after they use up federal and state aid.” According to Grisham’s office, on average, the “unpaid tuition gap” for college students in New Mexico is between 25%-40%, even after receiving federal and state aid, meaning, low-income students cannot apply to the scholarship program as they would struggle to get federal and state aid to begin with.
Interestingly enough, critics pointed out that New Mexico’s plan could increase college attendance inequity between the wealthy, middle-class, and poorer class students in the state. Also, because it requires applicants to apply for aid and grants prior to application, it seemingly enshrines economic discrimination.
Meanwhile, graduation rates in New Mexico are not impressive, at least according to what Inside Higher Ed reported. The University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, the flagship university in the state, has a six-year graduation rate of 47%, while Central New Mexico Community College graduated only 20% in three years. Critics contend that the scholarship program’s structure could funnel students into universities and programs which they are not adequately prepared for. In the long run, it could prove detrimental to obtaining college degrees as it is not focusing on the core problems, such as government overregulation in education, government subsidies to colleges and universities, the bureaucratic largesse in higher education which leads to higher salaries and overhead, etc.
How will Governor Grisham pay for her proposal? Her office proposed funding it through the state’s general fund, which is doing well thanks to the state’s economic growth in oil and gas industries. Tax revenues from taxes levied on those industries would be used to pay for the scholarship program.
As is typical with politicians, tax revenues are used to fund pet projects like these, without accounting for an economic downturn. As a result of this lack of budgetary foresight, multiple states have fallen into the budgetary and revenue trap of economic growth followed by a recession.
For New Mexico to follow New York’s lead on free college tuition and fees for in-state residents, it appears to be a potentially disastrous program as the state is overly reliant on two industries for tax revenues to fund the program. New York, on the other hand, has multiple industries to rely on for tax revenue.