On Wednesday, New Mexico announced a plan that would essentially provide a free college education for any state resident who choose to go to a state college or university. This news may sound familiar. Some higher education institutions in Texas are offering free tuition as well, though with more restrictions on who qualifies.
Katie Mangan is a senior writer for the Chronicle of Higher Education. She is based in Austin. Mangan says New Mexico’s plan has attracted some controversy because it would make tuition-free college available for students of all financial backgrounds.
“There are people who argue that if your goal is to get more of low-income and disadvantaged students to be able to afford college, the money should really be focused on those students,” Mangan says.
New Mexico’s plan will not give money to students right away. First the state makes sure that students go through what Mangan calls as a “last dollar” approach.
“You do have to exhaust other sources of scholarships and grants before this money will kick in,” Mangan says. “If, for instance, you have a Pell Grant or if you have another scholarship you have to use that money first and the state is then going to kick in whatever is uncovered.”
The news of the free tuition program came as a surprise to some because New Mexico is one of the poorest states in the country. The state plans to pay for the program with revenue the government collects from the oil and gas industry in the state.
“In New Mexico’s case, as in Texas, a lot of this money is going to be able to come from the revenues that come from oil and gas,” Mangan says. “That’s a pot of money that is available to help make college more affordable in both of these states.”
In Texas, universities themselves have taken on the task of making tuition free to low-income students. New Mexico’s state-led effort targets all students who want a higher education.
“College debts are just soaring,” Mangan says. “It’s more than $1.5 trillion what students owe at this point, and it’s become what many people see as a crisis that affects not only low income people but middle class people as well.”
According to Mangan, skepticism has been growing about whether people should attend college due to rising tuition costs and the lack of jobs in professional fields after graduation. New Mexico hopes to tackle this issue by attracting more students to universities.
“People are wondering whether it’s really worthwhile to take out those big loans to get a degree,” Mangan says. “Many people are feeling like they’re not getting the jobs that they had hoped to, straight out of college. That’s what these free college programs many people hope will at least put out a signal that college is affordable, it’s valuable and everyone has a shot at it.”
Written by Antonio Cueto.