New Mexico isn’t going to wait for federal action to make public colleges and universities more affordable. On Wednesday, the state went ahead and said it hopes to make them all tuition-free.
Democratic Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the ambitious plan to allow all of the state’s residents to attend all of its public colleges and universities for free. While several states have taken half-measure approaches to making higher education more affordable — such as only making two-year schools tuition free, or offering tuition-free admission only to certain residents — New Mexico aims to become the first state to throw out all of the major caveats and make all 29 of its public schools free to all residents.
“This program is an absolute game changer for New Mexico,” Grisham said in a statement provided to the New York Times. “In the long run, we’ll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents.”
— Michelle Lujan Grisham (@GovMLG) September 18, 2019
The state would pay for the initiative, which still needs to be approved by the Democratic legislature, with revenue from oil production. New Mexico’s deputy secretary of New Mexico’s Higher Education Department, Carmen Lopez-Wilson, told the Times the program is estimated to cost $25 million to $35 million annually, and that around 55,000 residents would benefit.
While progressive presidential candidates like Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) have put forth proposals to make all two- and four-year public colleges tuition-free, others have balked at the idea, arguing that it will either cost too much or that higher education initiatives should focus on lower-income Americans. “Americans who have a college degree earn more than Americans who don’t. As a progressive, I have a hard time getting my head around the idea of a majority who earn less because they didn’t go to college subsidizing a minority who earn more because they did,” South Ben Mayor Pete Buttigieg said in April.
Some existing state programs — like New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, which offers free tuition (with caveats) for families making up to $125,000 — are geared toward lower-income residents. The blanket approach New Mexico announced on Wednesday works especially well for the state, however, as a large percentage of its residents are struggling financially (its medium income is of $46,744 is almost $15,000 less than the national average), and tuition at its state schools is already on the lower side nationally.
If the federal government isn’t going to take action to alleviate the financial burden of higher education, at least states like New Mexico are taking action.