By Emily Wildau
Mar. 7, 2023
New Mexico is leading the way in providing all students with tuition-free higher education, and the Opportunity Scholarship, in conjunction with the Lottery Scholarship, has already shown results. That’s why New Mexico Voices for Children strongly supports the Opportunity Scholarship and recommends that it be fully funded in HB 2 and free of any guardrail language regarding the state Higher Education Department’s (HED) administration of the scholarship. After long-term declines in enrollment, more than 30,000 students were able to pursue college and career training, and higher education institutions statewide saw an enrollment increase of four percent in the fall 2022 semester. This defies national trends in higher education, with New Mexico experiencing the second highest enrollment growth in the country.
Not only does the Opportunity Scholarship provide tuition assistance to part-time and full-time students of any age and pursuing any program of study – ranging from certificate programs to four-year degrees – but it also can be flexibly applied in coordination with other sources of financial aid to maximize student support. This flexibility has been one of the greatest strengths of the Opportunity Scholarship – as it can be used to fund first semester Bridge Scholarships prior to a student receiving the Lottery Scholarship, used to cover remaining fees for students already receiving the Lottery Scholarship, or used to cover tuition so students can apply the entirety of their federal Pell Grant awards to other costs of attendance like housing, food, transportation, or child care.
It is no secret that New Mexico faces many challenges in diversifying and developing our economy. One large problem is a lack of workers with postsecondary credentials. Providing expanded access to high-quality education will not only expand economic opportunity for individual residents, but it will also do more to strengthen the local economy than almost anything else a state government can do. Historically, we’ve seen various administrations and lawmakers take a short-sighted approach to economic development, implementing expensive tax cuts to draw businesses to New Mexico – a strategy that does not lead to increased incomes as this focus drains resources from the most important, proven path to increasing workforce productivity: investments in education.
We know that more education translates to higher lifetime earnings, better health, less crime, and lower unemployment for individuals. But higher education attainment is also known to confer benefits to whole communities in terms of better health and reduced crime, both of which are huge and expensive problems in New Mexico. The Legislature has an opportunity to continue investing in our people and supporting our state’s economic growth as well as individual and community well-being, and NM Voices urges the Senate Finance Committee to include full funding for the Opportunity Scholarship in HB 2 and strike any language that sets guardrails on the scholarship’s flexibility or the HED’s administration of this critical financial aid.
Emily Wildau, MPP, is a research and policy analyst with New Mexico Voices for Children.