SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A bill that would give New Mexicans a free college education cleared its first committee Monday morning. Senate Bill 140, the Opportunity Scholarship Act would use $85.5 billion to allow up to 35,000 New Mexicans to attend college tuition-free. The Opportunity Scholarship would replace the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship.

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One big difference the Opportunity Scholarship Act would cover is the first semester of school and 100% of tuition for New Mexico residents enrolled at a public college or university in the state. Students can be part-time or full-time and can be working towards a training certificate, associated degree, or a bachelor’s degree. They must also hold at least a 2.5 GPA.

Advocates say the bill would simplify state financial aid and expand eligibility. “It gives New Mexicans a chance to change their lives. Whether they are a returning adult learner, a working parent, a recent high school graduate, or someone who started college but did not finish. This scholarship program will benefit all of these people and all of these students,” said Sen. Elizabeth Stefanics (D), District 39.

Secretary of New Mexico Higher Education Department Stephanie Rodriguez talked about the importance of this bill. “Providing tuition-free college for 2022 and beyond also means that New Mexico won’t have to start their careers saddled with debt like the $48,000 of teachers in our teacher loan repayment program on average,” said Secretary Rodriguez.

It passed the committee with a five to three vote, with one member not present. If it becomes law, the program could start as early as this fall.