Why NM Legislators Should Vote for HB 14/SB 323
Summary: Sponsored by Senator Bill O'neill and Representative Tomás Salazar, HB 14/SB 323 would provide scholarships for up to four years of college for recent NM high school graduates and up to two years for older, returning students. It establishes a scholarship fund and regular annual appropriations of $35M. The Opportunity Scholarship would cover all tuition and compulsory fees.
As currently proposed, this bill would be a “last dollar” program, providing aid only after other programs, such as federal grants (like Pell grants) had been awarded. However, representatives from our colleges and from education activists expressed serious concerns about the “last dollar” provision, since it would not address other higher education costs such as books, transportation, housing, and food, which can often cost much more than tuition, which is comparatively low in NM. According to a 2-4-20 article in the New Mexican, a “middle dollar” version is expected to be proposed, that would free up federal aid to cover more of these non-tuition costs in addition to covering a portion of tuition.
In response to this feedback, the House Appropriations and Finance Committee has left the Opportunity Scholarship Fund appropriation out of the budget and asked the administration to rewrite the bill to respond to the input from members of the committee and many university and community colleges, who prefer a “middle dollar” version. The administration has expressed willingness to respond to this input and introduce an amended version at its first committee hearing on Monday, Feb 10. The amended version is not yet public and so this summary is prepared based on multiple media reports.
The Higher Education Department will require agreements with the colleges and universities in return for this tuition support. Those agreements are expected to limit tuition increases and require that institutions invest in student-success initiatives, such as counseling and remediation services, that increase student retention and graduation rates.
Why This Bill is Good for New Mexico
- An educated workforce is essential to economic growth in New Mexico, yet the state lags behind our neighbors in the percentage of college graduates per capita. For many New Mexicans, the prohibitive costs keep college out of reach.
- The New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship was intended to provide free college for New Mexico high school graduates, but over time eroding lottery revenues reduced the payout. Today it covers 60-75 percent of those costs.
- The Opportunity Scholarship would impact an estimated 55,000 New Mexico students in the fall 2020 semester.
- The Opportunity Scholarship is a prudent and sustainable investment in our economic future. People with college degrees are 24 percent more likely to be employed and almost twice as likely to buy homes.
Who opposes this and why?
Some legislators have said they would prefer to increase funding for existing programs like the Lottery Scholarship.
Other legislators have said they are concerned about committing the state to a new program in case revenues, especially from oil and gas, decrease in the future.