New Mexico has become the most recent state to succumb to liberal demands for tuition-free college.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, recently announced support for legislation that would enable New Mexico students who maintain a 2.5 GPA in high school to attend public colleges and community colleges tuition-free starting next fall under a proposed Opportunity Scholarship.
As with every “free” college program, New Mexico’s proposed Opportunity Scholarship program is riddled with problems.
The program will cost between $25 million and $35 million annually, enough to put considerable strain on New Mexico taxpayers without addressing the underlying problems that drive higher education costs. It also will be a “last-dollar program,” meaning it covers tuition only after all scholarships and state and federal aid have been exhausted.
This will encourage students to max out other aid programs and, according to research, inflate tuition costs.
Unlike New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program, which caps eligibility at $125,000 of family income per year, there would be no such limit on the New Mexico program.
Even today, only a third of all Americans hold bachelor’s degrees. New Mexico’s program, if approved, would enable wealthy students to attain this critical credential for top jobs at the expense of hardworking taxpayers, most of whom have not earned degrees.
Ultimately, eliminating tuition for students will not improve higher education quality or address the root cause of its runaway costs.
Students want a system that prepares them for a profitable career after graduation without burdening them with significant loan payments. “Free” college sounds like a solution to that problem, but it will hurt the quality of the education that paying customers receive and ultimately render higher education less meaningful, by encouraging all Americans to attend college regardless of their career and life aspirations.
Notably, making it easier for people to attend college does not guarantee life success. While many students benefit immensely from a college degree, far too many students end up dropping out, and many who make it to graduation have trouble finding a well-paying job that matches their skillsets and settle for a job that only requires a high school degree.
According to the New York Federal Reserve Bank, 44% of recent college graduates are in jobs that do not require a college degree. Many in those jobs would’ve been better off financially never to have attended.
New Mexico’s push to become the second state to provide two- and four-year public college (after New York) for “free” operates under the false assumption that everyone should go to college. Instead, state legislators should bolster short-term programs that focus on marketable skills. A four-year bachelor’s degree is a good option for some, but not all students.
New Mexico’s push to adopt tuition-free college points to a larger shift in the national conversation regarding higher education. Whether at the state or federal level, “free” college is hardly free at all. In fact, free college would be tremendously costly to students, taxpayers, and the economy at large.