The Slatest

New Mexico Puts Forward Bold Plan to Make College Free for Everyone in the State

Children walk past a school bus sitting outside a school.
The New Mexico higher education plan would cover every student regardless of family income. Frederic J. Brown/Getty Images

New Mexico is set to announce an ambitious plan Wednesday to boost higher education and alleviate debt burdens on students by making all of its 29 two- and four-year public institutions tuition-free for all in-state students regardless of family income. The plan outlined by the state’s Democratic governor, Michelle Lujan Grisham, aims to benefit about 55,000 students each year at an annual cost of $25 million to $35 million, according to New Mexico’s Higher Education Department. The proposal will now need to pass through both houses of the state Legislature, both of which are controlled by Democrats.

“This program is an absolute game changer for New Mexico,” Grisham said in a statement 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.” To cover the cost of tuition, New Mexico will rely on its increased revenue from oil production in the Permian Basin, which the state shares with Texas. The state higher education system’s flagship campus, the University of New Mexico, has annual tuition costs of $7,500 for New Mexico residents, while community college tuition generally tops out at $3,000 a year.

“Officials contend that New Mexico would benefit most from a universal approach to tuition assistance. The state’s median household income is $46,744, compared with a national median of $60,336. Most college students in the state also come from relatively disadvantaged backgrounds; almost 65 percent of New Mexico undergraduates are among the nation’s neediest students, according to the state’s higher education department,” the New York Times reports. “The new program in New Mexico would be open to recent graduates of high schools or high school equivalency programs in the state, and students must maintain a 2.5 grade point average.”

The plan would only cover tuition expenses, but not many of the additional costs incurred by students—like housing, books, and child care costs—that, put together, can make getting a college degree financially challenging for middle and low-income households. The state-led effort to make education more affordable and therefore more accessible mimics a growing national conversation in the Democratic Party over student debt and the cost of education.