Priorities include free college, supporting teachers, and adult education
The New Mexico Higher Education Department has identified budget priorities for the 2023 fiscal year, which include expanding access to free college, supporting teachers, and investing in adult education.
The agency is requesting support for state financial aid programs, $9 million for adult education, and $5.2 million for agency operations and general costs. The budget recommendation will be submitted to the Department of Finance Administration and the Legislative Finance Committee, and will be finalized during the 56th Legislature.
“Our agency and Gov. Lujan Grisham are committed to ensuring that every higher education dollar is used to sustain and expand programs that provide all New Mexicans with the opportunity to earn an education for free and get the training necessary to support a healthy workforce and the state’s economy,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “We are dedicated to investing in free college in addition to supporting New Mexico’s teachers and programs that provide pathways to college and careers for adult learners, both of which are crucial to uplifting our citizens and state.”
The agency is requesting funding as part of a package to sustain and expand free college in New Mexico, including $48 million for the Opportunity Scholarship, which would impact 25,000 to 35,000 students. The Opportunity Scholarship, which provides an option for tuition-free college to returning adult learners and part-time students received $18 million in state funds in FY22.
An additional $3 million is proposed for the state’s Teacher Loan Repayment Program, which received a record number of applications this year. The program pays up to $6,000 per year toward the outstanding student debt of New Mexico teachers working in high-need areas. The program has been a lifeline for veteran teachers who acquired debt prior to the availability of the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship and other state scholarships now available for aspiring educators.
An additional $2.5 million in funding is proposed for the state’s adult education and literacy programs, which serves over 10,000 New Mexicans across the state each year with instruction, high school equivalency (formerly known as GED), and transition programs into higher education, career training, and the workforce. The proposed funding would restore the budget for these programs to FY21 levels. In 2019, 79% of students gained employment and 15% of students continued into higher education programs upon the completion of their adult education program.
Funds are also being requested to continue development and implementation of the state’s longitudinal data system, which incorporates databases from the New Mexico Early Childhood Education, Public Education, Higher Education, and Workforce Solutions Departments. The project aims to identify trends and present data-driven recommendations to support the success of New Mexicans from cradle to career.
The agency also oversees operational budgets for all public and tribal universities, colleges, and special schools. Institutional budget recommendations are calculated in part by a formula that considers metrics including student degree completion, enrollment, and credit hours completed. The agency recently convened a working group to evaluate the current higher education funding formula, which was established in 2016.
Additionally, the agency evaluates and recommends capital outlay projects for facility repairs and improvements at public higher education institutions, and recommends funding for selected research and public service projects submitted by higher education institutions statewide.
Despite the scope of programs overseen by the agency, NMHED is one of the smallest state agencies, with nine public-facing divisions and 50 full-time staff.