The Opportunity Scholarship attracted national attention when it was first promoted by New Mexico Gov. Michael Logan Grisham, a Democrat, as an “unprecedented” opportunity for students in a state with a poverty rate of 18.2 percent as of 2019 (nearly eight percentage points). higher than the national poverty rate).
Lujan Grisham’s proposal would have covered tuition and fee costs for recent high school graduates and returning adults, as well as unenrolled students, at all public higher education institutions in the state. It is proposed as a last dollar scholarship, which means it will cover the remaining costs after all other aid has been applied, such as the Federal Pell Scholarships.
But the proposal has not in the past made it to a committee in the state legislature. It was eventually added to the legislation on the state budget, curtailing in some respects and strengthening in others. Among other things, he ended up only attending community colleges.
The grant was criticized at the time for being the last dollar. Some higher education experts argue that first dollar programs, which cover tuition and fees before other aid is applied, are better because students can then use other aid to cover expenses such as books and food. Some have also criticized the proposal to rely too heavily on the revenues of the oil and gas industry.
The scholarship now covers two-year programs only at state public institutions. But it is now the so-called mid-dollar scholarship. Students must first use other government aid and scholarships to cover tuition and fees, and then the opportunity scholarship will cover the remainder. Federal financial aid will be applied to costs after the opportunity is granted – so students can use their Pell scholarships to cover non-tuition expenses such as books and housing.
This fall, 4,231 students received the scholarship, costing the state nearly $3 million.
These changes appear to have mitigated the criticism the grant faced when it was first announced.
“Although the program does not take a full first dollar approach, it is good to see that federal assistance is applied after this happens so that students have the opportunity to apply funds for a significant portion of the true cost of college, such as living situations,” said Tamara Heller, director of education at Third Way, a center-left think tank in Washington, D.C., addresses childcare, transportation, and other extracurricular needs.
Summary of a legislative finance committee hearing summarizes some of the criticisms of the original proposal. It indicates that the funds required for the original program may have been too low. The commission’s analysis showed it could cost up to $49 million – 40 percent higher than the Ministry of Higher Education’s funding request.
He also noted research showing that tuition costs and fees are not often the main obstacles for students, especially in states like New Mexico, which has some of the lowest tuition costs in the country. Instead, expenses such as transportation, housing, and food are major barriers for low- and middle-income students. The brief states that recent dollar programs can be regressive for this reason.
The brief recommended that the state use existing tools to improve college access, including increasing investments in first dollar student incentive grants that target students based on financial need, promoting the state’s first dollar lottery grant and providing resources for the Department of Higher Education to increase completion. Free application rates for Federal Student Aid.
The option to re-expand the grant to cover two-year programs only was to save costs, according to William Souls, a state senator and chair of the Senate Education Committee.
Souls said students who complete two-year programs are more likely to stay in New Mexico and take on jobs that help rebuild the state, such as nursing.
“People felt we should slow down and see how this works, and maybe expand in the future,” he said.
Andres Romero, the state representative and chair of the House Education Committee, argues that the proposal should have included four-year programs.
“I think we should aim to cover the costs for as many students as possible in New Mexico,” he said. He hopes that the program will build over time to include four-year programs.
It is unclear what will happen to the program in the future. It originally received $17 million in January, but was reduced to $10 million during a special legislative session due to the pandemic. About $5 million of that is non-recurring. The Department of Higher Education will have to request funds in each budget to support the program in the future.
One of the main benefits of the original proposal was the inclusion of four-year colleges, said Tiffany Jones, director of higher education policy at the Education Trust, an education equity advocacy organization in Washington.
“It is important that the free college changes our current system where students do not make decisions based on what they can afford,” she said.
If policy makers focus on two-year programs, they also need to find ways to improve student mobility, said Will Del Pilar, vice president of higher education policy and practice at Ed Trust.
Del Pilar does not believe there is evidence that providing assistance for four-year programs will be retroactive. Only two institutions in New Mexico — one two-year college and one four-year college — have Pell Grant enrollment rates below 15 percent. Some four-year institutions, he said, have Bell Grant enrollment rates over 40 percent.
“There are very needy students walking around the four-year educational institutions in New Mexico,” he said.
But Del Pilar said the average dollar’s approach is intriguing.
“It’s definitely a better approach than past dollar programs,” he said. “We should commend them for that.”
The state could go even further by simplifying the four scholarship programs, or targeting low-income students by putting an income cap on aid. This may free up more money for emergency aid or invest in larger student support services.
“For these types of software to have more use and application for students, we need to really think about who we want to serve,” he said.
However, Jones said the changes in messages from the time the proposal made headlines to the time it went into effect are worrisome.
“There’s kind of a really broken relationship between higher education and the public,” she said. “That’s the last thing people need.” “The implications here could go well beyond a student’s inability to enroll. It could further break that bond between higher education and its duty to serve the public.”