New Mexico: Tuition-Free College Program Fueled Enrollment Gains

The state's Opportunity Scholarship covers tuition for all in-state students and degree types to any state public or tribal college and university.
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  • Enrollment increased 4.1% across all state institutions, the first increase since 2010, according to the state's Higher Education Department.
  • New Mexico has the second-highest enrollment change in 2022, with New Hampshire being first — going against the national trend of decreased enrollment.
  • New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham credited the state's new Opportunity scholarship program for, "opening the doors to college," for thousands of residents.

New Mexico is bucking national college enrollment trends, thanks to its new sweeping tuition-free college program.

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and the state Higher Education Department announced that New Mexicans' enrollment across all associate, bachelor's, and certificate programs at state public institutions increased by 4.1% this fall. This is the first fall in which in-state students received free tuition through the state's new Opportunity Scholarship program.

"As a direct result of our investment in tuition-free college and career training for New Mexicans, higher education enrollment is on the rise for the first time in over a decade," Lujan Grisham said. "The Opportunity Scholarship began as a vision of opening the doors to college for more New Mexicans than ever before — and now we see clearly that our investments are making the dreams of so many students a reality right here at home."

New Mexico's Opportunity Scholarship covers tuition for all in-state students and degree types to any state public or tribal college and university. A bill creating a $75 million fund to create the scholarship passed in February.

This fall, more than 34,000 students are receiving the Opportunity Scholarship, and 10,000 are receiving the education lottery scholarship, according to Lujan Grisham's office. New Mexico has awarded over 45,000 total Opportunity Scholarships so far.

The state's Higher Education Department reported about 4,000 more students across all degree types this fall. While total enrollment increased by 4.1%, first-time, full-time student enrollment increased by over 9%. It is the first time the state's college enrollment has increased since 2010.

New Mexico is fighting the nationwide downward higher education enrollment trend. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSCRC), the state has seen the second-highest enrollment increase this fall, behind New Hampshire.

Nationwide undergraduate enrollment fell 1.1% from fall 2021 to fall 2022, according to a study from the NSCRC. Undergraduate enrollment has fallen 4.2% across all institutions since the pandemic began.

"When it comes to making policy to help students graduate college and make the most of their lives, New Mexico gets it," said Charles Ansell, Complete College America vice president for research, policy, and advocacy.

"Their policy work is testament to exactly what happens when you implement Complete College America's reforms and embed them in policy that is dedicated to working for all students — increasing graduation rates, increasing enrollment driven from retention, and more successful alumni."

These are the qualifications for the Opportunity Scholarship:

  • Be enrolled in 6-18 credit hours per semester
  • Maintain at least a 2.5 GPA
  • Be an in-state resident
  • Haven't already earned a degree or certificate

New Mexico this year has made historic investments in higher education. Last month, the state announced a $24 million effort to combat hunger on campus, including a nation-leading initiative to collect data showing how food insecurity impacts college students.