Department looks back at accomplishments for students, higher education in 2021

Stephanie Montoya

Highlights include expanding scholarships, supporting teachers, growing workforce and more 

The New Mexico Higher Education Department recognizes the many accomplishments made in 2021 to advance student success and higher education across the state and looks forward to continued progress in 2022 toward advancing free college, supporting students, and developing New Mexico’s workforce.   

“This year was a hallmark for higher education in New Mexico, with students benefitting from expanded access to free college with the Opportunity Scholarship and the restoration of the Lottery Scholarship to 100 percent, and a record level of financial support provided for teachers,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said. “I am grateful to Governor Lujan Grisham and our partners in higher education, the community, and the state for working together to improve higher education in New Mexico and look forward to doing even more for New Mexicans in the coming year.”  

“As we look back on 2021, the New Mexico Higher Education Department concentrated on providing access and creating supports for student learning as New Mexicans pursue academic or career technical degrees,” Higher Education Department Deputy Secretary Patricia Trujillo said. “The agency is dedicated to supporting higher education infrastructure so that New Mexico’s higher education institutions have access to resources to make our colleges and universities welcoming, thriving learning environments. We are focused on getting students and their families ready to make the most out of their higher education experience so that they can confidently earn degrees, establish careers that provide a family-sustaining income, and galvanize communities across the state.” 

Expanding Free College 

Tens of thousands of New Mexicans pursued higher education and career training thanks to an $18 million investment in the Opportunity Scholarship, which was expanded to include returning and part-time students pursuing career training certificates up to four-year degrees. The New Mexico Lottery Scholarship was also restored to cover the full cost of tuition for recent high school graduates for the first time since 2016 and was expanded to include students graduating from state-approved home schools. The agency is requesting full funding for free college programs in 2022, which would benefit up to 35,000 students.  

Supporting Teachers and the Workforce 

A record number of teachers benefitted from the department’s Teacher Loan Repayment Program, which provides up to $6,000 per year toward outstanding student debt and interest for New Mexico teachers working in high need subject areas and schools. Nearly 600 teachers were awarded in 2021, and the agency is requesting $5 million in the coming year to meet teacher needs statewide. More than 2,000 teachers received support from the Teacher Preparation Affordability and Grow Your Own Teachers scholarship programs and $5 million is being requested in 2023.  

The Higher Education department partnered with the Department of Workforce Solutions to create Ready New Mexico, a free resource that links New Mexicans with job opportunities and career education pathways that lead to family-sustaining careers in high-demand industries right here at home. Seven new fast-track career training programs have been created under Ready NM in partnership with employers in high-need areas such as smart manufacturing, information technology, hospitality, and fiber optic installation. More than 150 New Mexicans have enrolled in these trainings and nearly 115,000 New Mexicans have visited to explore training programs and job openings.   

The department partnered with Texas Tech University’s Hunt School of Dentistry in El Paso to combat the shortage of dentists and access to dental education in New Mexico by allowing New Mexico students to pursue dentistry degrees at lower in-state tuition rates. 

Investing in Student Success 

New Mexico college students were able to save time and money toward pursuing degrees this year after the department announced that credit for all general education courses students complete at state public colleges and universities would be accepted at any other public institution when a student transfers. More college students also became eligible for SNAP food benefits and public assistance via the TANF Education Works program.  

The agency enacted a consumer protection law requiring private colleges to disclose cost, debt, and graduate earning information to prospective students, and waived all transcript fees for 146 students affected by the unexpected closure of Vista College. 

Expanding College and Career Readiness 

On the college readiness front, the GEAR UP program was reestablished in New Mexico and launched at seven partner districts to provide college and career readiness activities and academic preparation for rural, low-income, and historically underserved students across the state. Over 18,000 New Mexico high school students had the opportunity to earn college credit free of cost to them via the Dual Credit Program in the 2020-2021 school year.  

The agency also partnered with the New Mexico College Access Foundation, the New Mexico Educational Assistance Foundation, College Connect New Mexico, and the Public Education Department to provide virtual and in-person college fairs and financial aid workshops to students and parents and celebrate college-going students during the statewide College and Career Signing Day.  

Helping Adult Learners Succeed 

The New Mexico Higher Education Department served over 5,000 adult learners through partner adult education programs statewide and provided test fee vouchers and materials for nearly 600 New Mexicans seeking to attain their High School Equivalency (HSE) credential. Over 300 students received a HSE credential and over 400 students enrolled in higher education or a job training program.  

Higher Education Funding and Policy 

The department convened a working group earlier this year to review and develop adjustments to the higher education funding formula, commonly referred to as Instruction and General (I&G) funding, and the adult education funding formula.  

The Department also recommended $214.3 million for higher education facilities and infrastructure statewide, and launched a new and improved software system for higher education capital projects.