UNM introduces free college for incoming freshman

(Patrick Tomasso via Unsplash)

By Madison Spratto / New Mexico News Port

As part of our Curious UNM project, our reporters are seeking questions about the University of New Mexico. These questions can look at any aspect of life on campus, from historical moments to current events. This story looks at the question, “Who benefits from the Lobo First-Year Promise?”

For the first time in the University of New Mexico’s history, eligible incoming students will be able to receive free tuition. 

Dubbed the Lobo First-Year Promise, the scholarship will go into effect for the Fall 2020 semester. The program fully covers tuition and fees. Any New Mexican resident who has graduated from an in-state high school in the past 16 months may apply for the scholarship, provided they meet a few other requirements. 

Eligible residents must be first-time college students who are entering on a full-time basis, and have a family income of $50,000 or less, which is just below the state average. Students must complete 15 credit hours with a 2.5 GPA or greater to have the funding carried into the Spring 2021 semester. 

Dan García, the vice president for UNM Enrollment Management, said there is no special application process for the program; students will need to submit their 2020-21 Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and turn in official university admissions documents by April 30. 

There is no limit to how many students can receive funding through the program, he said. The funding for Lobo First-Year Promise is from a combination of state, federal and institutional gift aid.

García said the university anticipates that a large amount of the funding will come from federal and state grant aid, which includes the Lottery Scholarship. For students who are entitled to the Lottery Scholarship, they will receive the funding from that pool, and the rest of the tuition and fees will be covered with the Lobo First-Year Promise. 

Other scholarships will be awarded in the same way: the Lobo First-Year promise will pay what tuition and fees are not covered by their respective scholarships. 

This isn’t the first talk of offering New Mexcians free college. 

Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham proposed the Opportunity Scholarship in 2019—coming in the form of House Bill 14 in this year’s session of the New Mexico State Legislature. 

According to the Office of the Governor’s website, the scholarship is meant to fulfill the initial promise of the Lottery Scholarship: free college tuition for more than 55,000 students in New Mexico. Currently only 60 to 75 percent of a student’s college tuition and fees are covered by the Lottery Scholarship. 

Ultimately, the bill—which includes funding for four-year institutions—did not pass the House Education Committee, but earned a do-pass recommendation on Committee Substitution. This means an amended version of the bill, including tuition only for two-year programs, passed. 

“The Governor’s proposal for the Opportunity Scholarship was the real catalyst,” García said. “It got people—including most of us at UNM—talking about the importance of providing clear messages about support for lower-income families’ tuition and fee expenses.”

He said the university wanted to fill that need for the upcoming school year until the Opportunity Scholarship also applies to four-year universities, such as UNM. The Lobo First-Year Promise will be evaluated at the end of the 2020-21 academic year, but García said he does not know if the program will be phased out or expanded yet. 

“The greatest benefit will be to reassure academically-talented students, and their families, in New Mexico that a university education at UNM is possible this coming year,” Gracia said. “At the same time we’re committed to ensuring that every student at UNM receives the need-based financial support they are entitled to.”

In a statement, UNM President Garnett Stokes shared the sentiment, saying the university wants to make sure students know there is a direct path to UNM. 

“As the University of New Mexico, we are dedicated to making an excellent four-year education accessible to all New Mexicans,” she said. 

James Holloway, provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, said in a statement that UNM is excited to offer the Lobo First-Year Promise to the upcoming class in Fall 2020. 

“This program will allow more students to have a choice, and to select a higher education option based on their needs and aspirations, rather than cost,” he said.

García said the university, which is struggling with declining enrollment, won’t know how this program affects enrollment since it will be put into effect for the first time in the fall. 

“We do believe it will lead to an increase in the number of students reconsidering UNM who had previously thought the first year of tuition and fee costs were out of reach,” he said. 


Madison Spratto is a reporter for the New Mexico News Port. She can be contacted on Twitter @Madi_Spratto or at nmnewsport@gmail.com.