NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – While college enrollment has dipped around the country, that’s not the case in New Mexico. The Higher Education Department went in front of state lawmakers Wednesday to detail the surge in enrollment from New Mexico’s two main scholarships.

The Higher Education Department said enrollment is up 4% this fall after years of steady decline. Stephanie Rodriguez, the Higher Education Secretary, explained, “Over 36,000 students are benefiting from the Opportunity Scholarship this year. Additionally, with the $130 million infusion for the Lottery Scholarship, we have sustained it for four years and over 10,000 students benefit from that program each year.”

According to the Higher Education Department, more than 60% of students who received the opportunity scholarship were already enrolled at their college. A quarter of the Opportunity Scholarship awardees were 25 or older while nearly 27% were first-time freshmen. 

The Opportunity Scholarship allows all New Mexicans to earn a credit-bearing certificate, associate’s, or a bachelor’s degree tuition free. In order to continue offering tuition-free college, the Higher Education Department is asking lawmakers for a funding increase for the opportunity scholarship. 

Secretary Rodriguez said, “To sustain the most flexible scholarship in the state, we are asking, in our original budget recommendation, $100 million of recurring funds which is less than 2% the overall state budget.”

The Opportunity Scholarship originally received $75 million of nonrecurring funds. The Opportunity Scholarship also requires students to maintain a 2.5 GPA. 

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Only New Mexico residents, or people who’ve lived here for at least a year, and are financially independent qualify for the Opportunity Scholarship.