ALBUQUERQUE—Making college more affordable for its low-income population would pay the state big dividends down the road.
Having a better educated workforce would help attract higher-paying jobs to the state, which would lead to more economic activity. In addition, boosting the educational level of the state’s adults would improve the educational outcomes of our children. Those are among the points made in a report just released by New Mexico Voices for Children.
“Education and money are inexorably linked,” said Veronica C. García, Ed.D., executive director of the child advocacy agency. “Higher pay comes with higher education, but you need money to get that education. If you were born into a family that doesn’t have enough of either, the odds are stacked against you. With such a high percentage of New Mexicans on the wrong side of that equation, the state has a real interest in changing the odds.”
Just 34 percent of adults in New Mexico have a college degree, compared to the national average of 40 percent. Not surprisingly, New Mexico has more lower-paying jobs requiring little education. With lower income levels comes less economic activity for the state. Earning poor wages also makes it more difficult for New Mexicans to pursue a college degree.
Given this cycle, it would make sense for the state to make much of its financial aid available on a needs-basis, but that is not the case. Just 25 percent of New Mexico’s scholarships are need-based, while the U.S. average of need-based scholarships is 74 percent.
The Legislature is currently considering bills that are in line with some of the report’s recommendations, including making the lottery scholarship need-based (SB 657) and restoring money to the College Affordability Fund (SB 488 and HB 401), which was emptied for other purposes during leaner budget years.
“While the lottery scholarship has allowed countless New Mexicans to pursue a college degree, we also need to put more focus on breaking down financial barriers for less traditional students—such as New Mexicans who have been out of high school for a while and those who need help with child care and other living expenses,” Dr. Garcia said.