After intense debate, the New Mexico state Senate approved $17 million for the Opportunity Scholarship for fiscal year 2021 on Feb. 19.
With only a day and a half left in the legislative session, the only thing standing in the way of the funding being sent to the governor's desk is approval by the House of Representatives.
If the bill — packaged into general appropriations legislation — is signed into the law, the money is set to be used for tuition and fee scholarships for students attending public postsecondary educational institutions or tribal colleges. The Senate also boosted the existing Lottery Scholarship fund by $10 million.
The Opportunity Scholarship was one of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's signature proposals during the 2020 session.
"(The Opportunity Scholarship) is a prudent, sustainable investment in the bridge we must build between our classrooms and our workforce," Lujan Grisham said during her State of the State address on Jan. 21 before the legislature convened.
Lujan Grisham said she hoped the scholarship would apply to all 55,000 New Mexican students enrolled in college each year. However, the governor's early projections won’t come to fruition for the upcoming school year, as the final legislation was reduced and will only apply to students at community colleges in 2021.
The governor had originally anticipated that all New Mexican students would be eligible for free tuition, but the language in the budget states "the opportunity scholarship program shall prioritize financial aid based on need to undergraduate, credential-seeking students who are enrolled in a two-year academic program."
In order to be eligible, students must complete the Free Application for Financial Student Aid or another form of income verification. They also must be enrolled full-time (taking at least 12 credit hours with a minimum 2.5 cumulative GPA) and have to either be over 18 years old or eligible for a lottery tuition scholarship.
Marcus, an 11th grader and UNM dual credit student, said his parents have been talking about the Opportunity Scholarship and said they will be happy they won't have to pay as much for him to go to college.
It is Daily Lobo policy to refer to minors by only their first names for the sake of privacy of identity.
"(My parents said) this is a really cool opportunity, and they don't have to pay as much… so they support it," Marcus said.
He went on to add the scholarship definitely makes it more likely that he will go to UNM.
Lujan Grisham's spokesperson Nora Sackett said, "We're encouraged that the legislature has taken this step in the right direction, but the governor is clear that every New Mexico student deserves access to higher education. The governor wants an Opportunity Scholarship that benefits all qualifying New Mexico students, just as she proposed, and she will continue to work towards the full funding and implementation of the program."
Justin Garcia and Andrew Gunn contributed reporting to this article.
Lissa Knudsen is a public health beat reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @lissaknudsen