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New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham unveils a free college tuition proposal at a higher education summit in Albuquerque.

New Mexico governor proposes free college for state residents

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham calls the proposed New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship "a moonshot for education."

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed a program that would enable residents to attend public colleges in the state for free.

The Albuquerque Journal reports that Grisham unveiled her proposal, the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, during a higher education summit in Albuquerque.

“Let’s make it free,” Lujan Grisham said. “Here’s the moonshot for higher education.”

The program would cover the tuition gap left after a student receives financial aid, grants and scholarships, including the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship.And it would be available to students regardless of family income. State lawmakers would need to sign off on the proposal.

Students would be able to use the scholarship to pay their tuition and fees at any public higher education institution in the state. The governor estimates that 55,000 students would use the scholarship each year, and that the program would cost the state between $25 million and $35 million each year.

“It’s a cheaper program than it would be in most states because we have significant financial aid infrastructure already built into the state budget with the Lottery (Scholarship) and the high Pell (Grant) usage,” says state Higher Education Deputy Secretary Carmen Lopez-Wilson. “And then the factor that our tuition across the board is really low in this state. I think those are the two major factors that make this affordable and realistic.”

The requirements of the Opportunity Scholarship would mostly mirror those in the Lottery Scholarship. Students attending a four-year university would have to take a full course load, start college within 16 months after graduating from a New Mexico high school or earning the equivalency, and maintain a 2.5 grade-point average.

Lujan Grisham said she hopes the scholarship will be in effect next fall.

University of New Mexico Regent Kim Sanchez Rael says the scholarship would help students attend college and make New Mexico an attractive place to live for growing families.

“I see it as a real magnet to build the entire workforce and to bring growing families into New Mexico," she says. 'We’ve had an exodus of young families and now we can have this great magnet to bring people back, be part of our workforce and continue to build our economy in the state. If you think of the … ripple effects of an initiative like this – it’s a win for the business community, employers, families. I think it can be transformative. Not only for the education of students, but also for the broader economy of our state.”

Central New Mexico Community College President Katharine Winograd says the school looks forward to being part of the governor’s proposal.

"We need more college graduates in New Mexico to improve the prospects for families and our economy, and reducing the financial burden on students is a key step,” Winograd says.

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