Editorial: Make college tuition free

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a proposal Wednesday to make college more accessible for New Mexico residents.

Image via United States Congress

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a proposal Wednesday to make college more accessible for New Mexico residents.

By The Pitt News Editorial Board

It’s no secret that the cost of college is on the rise.

Many states have recognized this problem and are attempting to combat rising tuition. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced a new program Wednesday meant to help make higher education more accessible to residents of New Mexico, adopting the idea of free tuition has been implemented in several states already. It’s a reasonable solution to the problem of unreasonably high tuition that more states should consider adopting.

The New Mexico program, which still needs approval from the state legislature, is one of the most ambitious proposals yet for making college more accessible. Where other states have promised free two- and four-year public college to some students, the New Mexico proposal promises to cover four years of tuition for all students, even if their families can afford the sticker price.

Free college tuition is a subject that has been heavily disputed, and it has formed an important part of several Democratic presidential campaigns, most notably those of Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren. A common misconception about free tuition programs is that they’re unfair because they make college entirely free. This is absolutely not the case.

The New Mexico plan models New York State’s Excelsior Scholarship, implemented in 2017 by Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Excelsior program promises free tuition for two- and four-year colleges for families who make less than $125,000 per year. To receive this aid, students cannot take breaks in their education for reasons other than medical, military or family leave, and they have to live and work in New York for as long as they received the award. Excelsior doesn’t cover anything except tuition — books, living expenses and fees aren’t included.

New Mexico similarly only covers tuition, but it goes further than Excelsior in two important ways. Any student — regardless of family income — can apply, and so can adults returning to school at community colleges.

“This program is an absolute game changer for New Mexico,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement. “In the long run, we’ll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents.”

The goal of this program and others like it isn’t to make college free for everyone. The goal is to make college more affordable and accessible by eliminating a large portion of the cost of attendance. Students still have to pay for other aspects of college life, but states are trying to give them a leg up so that they don’t graduate with crippling debt. And in the end, that will hopefully benefit state and local economies, too.

More states, like Pennsylvania, should consider this approach to higher education. It’s an investment in students that will hopefully help break the cycle of crippling college debt and unemployment we face today.