Free College—Yay or Nay?

Last Wednesday, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham made a bold proposal for the state of New Mexico: Free college for all New Mexican citizens, regardless of income or circumstance. This fund, called the “Opportunity Scholarship,” would cover full tuition not already covered by other scholarships. This proposal would encourage all high school graduates to attend college to work towards some kind of degree. I appreciate the money that is being put into education (finally!), but there are several fundamental flaws in this plan. 

First, I believe that this scholarship could hinder the college environment that we know and love. Personally, I hated high school. I was surrounded by people that didn’t care about their education; they didn’t want to be there, and they made sure that everyone else knew that. College, on the other hand, is a different story. Everyone is at this university because they are interested in furthering their education. They are passionate about what they do, and they are willing to put in the work to study, have jobs, or apply for scholarships. As a result, the classes are more difficult and fast-paced—it’s a sink or swim situation. By offering free college, Grisham is inviting anybody to give it a go, even if they aren’t passionate about learning or earning a degree, just because it’s free. This ultimately hurts the students that are actually trying to work for their education. 

I also believe that most of the funding going into this proposal will end up being wasted. When students decide to try ‘free college’ and then change their mind, that money is gone—thousands of dollars spent on classes that these students will never use again. Instead of putting all of this funding into an extravagant project that will end when the money runs out, I believe that the governor should focus on a long-term solution that will help the students that are truly dedicated to their college experience.

Furthermore, if everyone has access to a free college, the value of a degree will be reduced significantly. Although more degrees might help the New Mexican economy, individuals like us will ultimately be competing with more graduates for the jobs that we have worked so hard for. Some of this money, then, should go into creating more high-quality jobs to meet the new demand for high-quality employees. Otherwise, the students that the state invested money in will end up moving to other states to find the work that they are now qualified for. 

This plan would also destroy the current New Mexico system that is designed to help low-income students. The people that are able to receive the Pell Grant or other need-based financial aid would already have most of their tuition paid; the Opportunity Scholarship wouldn’t give them a lot of funds. Higher-income students, on the other hand, would receive more money because there are less scholarships available to cover their tuition. Besides, this proposal doesn’t take living expenses into account, either. Rent is expensive—my bank account can vouch for that. Although the Opportunity Scholarship will lower the cost of tuition, many students will still have to drop out for financial reasons, simply because they can’t afford food or an apartment while they’re going to school. 

Don’t get me wrong—I am happy to see more of our state’s funding being put towards education. However, I don’t believe that the Opportunity Scholarship is the solution that we need. I believe that more of this money should be put into elementary and high schools, to give students a better foundational education. This will motivate them to work towards college because they are passionate about it, not because it is being handed to them. I also believe that some of this funding should be put into the New Mexican workforce, to help students post-graduation. That will help this fund benefit our state workforce, instead of forcing graduates out of the state to find work. And yes, I believe that part of this funding should go towards us college students. There are a lot of people that truly want a degree that don’t have the financial means of getting one, and the Opportunity Scholarship could be converted to something that benefits the students that can prove they are working hard to better themselves.

Overall, I commend the governor for her bold moves in state education. This has been an ongoing issue for years, and college is only getting more expensive. However, I would like to see this money going towards the people that will truly benefit from the fund. I believe that there are more efficient ways to invest in the education of New Mexican students.