College shouldn’t cost an arm and a leg

With New Mexico making tuition free for in-state residents, our state needs to follow suit.

Sarina Grossi, Editorial Board

In a report conducted by the Educational Data Initiative, over 38% of students who dropped out of college cited financial pressure as their reason for not continuing their educational career. And according to National Public Radio, college enrollment across the U.S. is down by 13% from what it was in 2019. Today it appears that higher education is becoming a goal that is harder and harder to pursue.

Despite this concerning data, New Mexico has announced that starting in July, tuition for in-state residents will be free. The state will allocate 1% of government funding to cover fees for public universities, community colleges and tribal colleges despite financial or immigration status. Legislators hope that this free tuition initiative will encourage more enrollment and help students use federal aid and scholarships towards needs like lodging and food.

New Mexico’s plan, though only a trial run, is almost radical when it comes to the American college system. Though some states have made similar strides by providing more financial aid, no state has attempted to make all universities tuition free. 

This comes after U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration’s plans to provide free universal community college and debt forgiveness plans have been even further delayed.

At the Experience, we believe more states should follow in New Mexico’s footsteps, as it will make a college education more accessible for thousands upon thousands of individuals.

Even after college students and graduates are dealing with incredibly high student loans, keeping them in a state of debt. It’s estimated by the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities that the average college student graduates owing $25, 921. CNBC also states that there is over $1.73 trillion in student loan debt in America — a shocking number. 

Some may argue that if students work hard, they can find jobs after college that will help them pay off their loans, but since the pandemic, employment has been unpredictable. And even now, graduates on average finish paying off their loans after 20 years, which is a long time to stay in debt. 

Many students take the community college route to avoid this, however, this route that promises less financial trouble isn’t guaranteed. For our district, first-time, full-time students are given free tuition (known as the FT3 plan), yet this doesn’t apply to any part-time students or students returning to school, which means they still have to pay full tuition. Not to mention that prices for class enrollments have risen over time, making those that don’t qualify for FT3 less likely to invest in a college education.

We understand college districts are trying to make an education more affordable, especially ours that uses lots of aid programs and initiatives like the Zero Cost Textbook program, but even with this help, finances are forcing many students to pick financial safety over academic goals.

Studies show that making cuts to tuition is not only beneficial to students, but to institutions as well. Within the first year of the Tennessee Promise Program, an initiative in the state to give students free tuition towards an associate’s degree, enrollment was up 24.7%. This includes minority students, as the population of Black students increased to 19%, contributing to growing diversity.

The Degree Program, a study conducted from 2011 to 2019, gave Milwaukee 9th graders $12,000 in college aid as long as they followed merit-based rules, mimicking free tuition outlines for community colleges. The study found that graduation rates at community colleges increased by 3% in the low income brackets, indicating that financial barriers were less of a problem for these students. In a world where the college degree has become the new high school diploma, programs like these can encourage people to join higher entry jobs that they wouldn’t be able to otherwise.

A large complaint that is brought up in conversations about free tuition is the price to maintain it. Creating this effort would be extremely costly, as EdSource reports that yearly cost for taxpayers would be $79 billion. Yet, in 2018, the federal government invested $149 billion in higher education institutions, almost double what is necessary to make tuition free. Though it may seem unbelievable, free tuition is not out of reach.

The Experience staff does not know if New Mexico’s plan will be successful, but when it comes to providing more individuals a chance to further their education, we can’t help but be optimistic.