Senate Bill 140 passed and signed, gives tuition-free college for thousands of NM residents

Hannah Zamora

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Algernon D'Ammassa

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs Senate Bill 140 in Silver City. March 4, 2022. Algernon D’Ammassa, Photo from the Las Cruces Sun-News.

During the second session of 55th Legislature of New Mexico, Senate Bill 140 was passed, replacing the current Lottery Scholarship with The Opportunity Scholarship Act. The Opportunity Scholarship Act will provide tuition-free college for thousands of New Mexican residents, beginning July 1, 2022

Sponsored by Representative Joy Garratt and Senator Elizabeth Stefanics, SB 140 will pay for tuition and fees for all New Mexican residents attending any New Mexican Public or Tribal university, either part time or full time.

Currently, to be eligible for The Lottery Scholarship students need to have graduated from a public or private New Mexican high school, been homeschooled in the state of New Mexico, or receive a high school equivalency credential. Additionally, students must attend a university in the state of New Mexico within 16 months of graduation and enroll in and pass 15 credit hours per semester while maintain a minimum cumulative 2.5 GPA.

The Opportunity Scholarship Act differs from the lottery scholarship because any New Mexican resident, regardless of age, will be eligible for this scholarship. As well, students will be required to earn a minimum of 6 credit hours and maximum of 18 credit hours per semester to maintain the scholarship.

“The Opportunity Scholarship covers all tuition and fees for any New Mexican resident enrolled in a public or tribal school, college or university in our state.” Garratt explained to House members, “Additionally, both part time and full-time students are eligible, and this is a vital part of the bill because so many of our adults are juggling full time jobs and childcare and doing 6 credits a semester is a challenge to do.”

SB 140 will appropriate a total of $85.5 million dollars from the general fund to fund The Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“Senate Bill 140 as amended combines The Opportunity Scholarship, The Legislative Endowment scholarship, and the college affordability grant into one single fund which makes it much easier for financial aid officers to work with,” Garratt explained.

Members of the House spoke out in support of The Opportunity Scholarship Act, citing the importance of allowing New Mexicans the opportunity to pursue higher education.

“I believe to the core of my being that education is the route to economic security and to economic growth, not just for individual New Mexicans but for our state. Education is the path by which we will grow our economy in this state, fill our workforce shortages in our state that we constantly, madame speaker, talk about in this chamber.” Representative Natalie Figueroa spoke out in favor of SB 140.

Several Representatives raised questions and concerns with what future funding will look like for The Opportunity Scholarship Act.

“If we are looking at what could be transformational for New Mexico I do think giving these students that level of support could truly be transformational. So, my struggles there: We’re looking at what could be transformational with our one-time money and how do we not use one time money for reoccurring expenses,” Representative Candie G. Sweetser said. “So, although I voted against this in Education [Committee] this morning I am leaning toward voting for the bill tonight because I do think it needs to move forward.”

On Feb. 13 SB 140 was passed in the Senate with a 30-6 vote. After hours of discussion in the House, SB 140 was eventually passed with bipartisan support and a 51-17 vote on the evening of Feb. 16. The bill was officially signed by Governor Lujan-Grisham on Mar. 4.

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