Opportunity Scholarship


The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship

An educated workforce is essential to the economic growth New Mexico desires, yet the state lags behind our neighbors in the percentage of college graduates per capita. For many New Mexicans, the prohibitive costs keeps college out of reach.

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has proposed removing the barrier by making college essentially free to eligible New Mexico residents. Her proposed New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship would contribute toward expenses for tuition and fees at any of the state's 29 public institutions of higher education, providing up to four years of college for recent high school graduates and two years of college for returing adults.

The New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship was intended to provide free college for New Mexico high school graduates, but over time eroding lottery revenues reduced the payout; today it covers 60-75 percent of those costs.

The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship encourages students to apply for federal student aid by completing the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA).

The Opportunity Scholarship would impact an estimated 55,000 New Mexico students in the fall 2020 semester and all of the state’s 29 public institutions of higher education, which would see higher enrollment.

Eligibility Criteria For Recent High School Graduates

Student Must

  • Be a New Mexico resident for one year.
  • Graduated from a New Mexico high school or received a high school equivalency credential.
  • Must begin use of scholarship within 16 months of high school graduation or high school equivalency credential or honorable discharge from military.
  • Maintain at least a 2.5 GPA and full-time enrollment in a baccalaureate degree program.
  • Complete use of this scholarship within 5 years.

Eligibility Criteria For Adult Learners

Student Must

  • New Mexico resident for one year (12 consecutive months).
  • Must be at least 24 years of age.
  • Maintain at least a 2.0 GPA and half-time enrollment in an associate degree program or credit bearing certificate program.
  • Complete use of this scholarship within 5 years.
Eligibility Criteria For Institutions
  • Complete a Memorandum of Understanding with the New Mexico Higher Education Department to limit tuition increases.
  • Increase wraparound support services, such a tutoring and advising, to improve student retention.
Expected Outcomes
  • Increased enrollment.
  • Description of wraparound support services to students, including remediation services and number of students served.
  • Change in remediation rates.
  • Improvement in graduation and transfer rates.
  • The Opportunity Scholarship restores the promise of the Lottery Scholarship by ensuring tuition and fees are fully covered for in-state residents.
  • The annual appropriation is eminently reasonable given the consistent cuts to the state’s higher education budget in recent years. It becomes more reasonable when considering an expected increase in enrollment will help make the program funding self-sustaining.
  • The scholarship benefits those seeking four-year college degrees and returning adult learners in equal measure.
  • The Opportunity Scholarship is a prudent and sustainable investment in our economic future. People with college degrees are 24 percent more likely to be employed and almost twice as likely to buy homes.
  • The scholarship will also contribute to non-economic measures of well being. College graduates report being happier, healthier, and enjoying a higher quality of life than those with a high school education or less. They are twice as likely to do volunteer work and 3.5 times more likely to make charitable contributions.
  • MOUs between the higher education institutions and the Higher Education Department will ensure tuition stability so students do not bear the brunt of unnecessary increased costs. The MOU’s also will ask higher education institutions to commit to support services to improve student retention.

Frequently Asked Questions:

What does this program entail?

  • Four (4) years of tuition and fee-free college for recent high school graduates or high school equivalency.
  • Two (2) years of tuition and fee-free college for adult learners.

How does it work for recent graduates?

  • The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship covers all tuition and fees after accounting for other financial aid.
  • The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship combined with the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship shall pay 100 percent of tuition and fees at a New Mexico public postsecondary education institution.
  • The average unpaid tuition gap left by the Legislative Lottery Scholarship is between 25 and 40 percent.

How does it work for adults interested in returning to higher education?

  • The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship will cover any tuition and fees that remain after other financial aid is applied. Students will be eligible for up to two years of coursework in an associate degree program.
  • The New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship combined with other state aid will pay 100 percent of tuition and fees for a two-year program.

Has this been done before?

  • New Mexico will be the second state in the country, after New York, to establish tuition-free higher education for recent graduates.
  • New Mexico will be the twenty-first state in the country to establish tuition-free education for adult learners.

How will this program be paid for? What are the costs?

  • Legislative Appropriation from state revenue.
  • Estimated $35 Million.

How many students will this provide for?

  • This program will benefit approximately 55,000 students per year, which includes students eligible for the lottery scholarship and projections of interested, eligible adults.
  • In addition, 65 percent of New Mexico’s student population are eligible to receive need-based aid.

What does this mean for each institution?

  • Increased enrollment.
  • Opportunity to increase wraparound services and remediation services for student success.

Which students are eligible?

  • New Mexico residents with a high school diploma, GED or high school equivalency credential.

Is it sustainable?

  • Yes. New Mexico colleges and universities have historically kept tuition low. This scholarship can help increase enrollment, retention and completion rates. In the long term, it will stimulate economic growth by increasing the availability of a highly trained and highly competitive workforce.

How does this scholarship relate to the Lottery Scholarship and the College Affordability Scholarship? 

  • This scholarship provides a last dollar mechanism to cover any remaining tuition and fees owed by a student after other financial aid and expected family contributions are applied.

How do future students enroll or become eligible?

  • Upon enrollment at a public post-secondary educational institution, students may apply for financial aid to access the benefits of the scholarship.

Can current students become retroactively eligible?

  • Students may not receive a retroactive benefit but may be eligible for tuition assistance in future semesters.