**Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story said an agreement has been signed. This has been corrected.**
NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – New Mexico has two large free college programs – with millions of dollars to pay for students’ higher education – but can those programs survive in the long run? That is what state leaders are asking in a new report.
Thousands of New Mexicans depend on the Lottery and Opportunity scholarships. In a Legislative Finance Committee (LFC) meeting on Tuesday, August 22, analysts with the state highlighted the changes needed to keep the scholarships from running out of money.
The analysts pointed out a glaring problem in the process. “The state’s higher education department has rules requiring colleges to enter into tuition agreements before receiving Opportunity Scholarship funds. Yet, these tuition agreements are not yet in place,” says Clayton Lobaugh, LFC Analyst. New Mexico’s Higher Education Department said they are in the process of finalizing agreements.
The Opportunity Scholarship started in 2020, paying for the tuition of returning students. However, the LFC notes that students are leaving nearly $27 million of potential federal assistance unclaimed each year.
The LFC also says the state lacks a system for controlling tuition costs. The committee warns that this could hurt the long-term viability of the two scholarships. The higher education department says it shares the frustration that there is no one state board to review tuition for state schools. Although only one institution raised tuition and fees last year, it raised tuition by 29%.
The LFC is asking to make applying for this federal and state funding easier, as some applicants may be missing out purely because the paperwork is too confusing. Now, the application is expected to be reduced from more than 100 questions to 38.