Higher Education Department announces budget priorities for 2023

Stephanie Montoya

Agency plans to expand high-need scholarship, workforce and education programs.

The New Mexico Higher Education Department has announced that it plans to sustain and expand funding for popular scholarship, workforce, and student-centered programs as part of its FY24 operational budget proposal presented to the Legislative Finance Committee on Wednesday.  

“Over the past four years, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham and the New Mexico Higher Education Department together with our partners have made transformational change for New Mexicans through higher education and related programs, and we are starting to see impacts of the investment all across our state,” Higher Education Secretary Stephanie M. Rodriguez said. “Last year, New Mexico made history by funding the most expansive tuition-free college program in the nation through the Opportunity Scholarship and by providing debt relief to a record number of working teachers and health professionals. We are committed to continuing to meet the needs of New Mexicans through these high-demand programs and services.”  

As the state continues to experience increased revenues, the agency will work in coordination with Gov. Lujan Grisham, partner agencies, and legislators to target new funding toward high-demand and high-impact initiatives while sustaining the remaining budget at current levels.  

Topline priorities include expanded funding for the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, the Teacher Loan Repayment Program, and the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program to meet growing public needs. New Mexico saw the second-highest college enrollment increase of any state as a direct result of the Opportunity Scholarship, marking the first growth in higher education enrollment in over a decade. More than 36,000 students are benefitting from the Opportunity Scholarship this year, and over 700 working New Mexico teachers and health professionals have benefitted from agency debt relief programs.  

The Department is also prioritizing funding for the state’s 42 adult education and literacy programs, which provide instructional services for New Mexico adults seeking to attain a high school equivalency credential, enter the workforce, learn English as a second language, and more. In addition to fulfilling workforce needs, adult education programs also help children succeed in school by advancing a parent’s education and literacy skills. 

"Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham's continued support of adult education, including appropriations for testing vouchers and instructional materials, is imperative to the advancement of adults and families in New Mexico,” said New Mexico Adult Education Association President Jamie Trujillo. “Research has shown that educational attainment of parents directly correlates with educational and economic opportunities for children. By expanding funding for education for those adults who are seeking a high school equivalency credential, the state is ensuring economic growth for many generations to come. NMAEA is extremely grateful for the efforts of Gov. Lujan Grisham and her administration.” 

Increased funding is also recommended for the Tribal College Dual Credit Program, which lets high school students take free college courses for credit at one of New Mexico’s four Tribal colleges and universities. While other public colleges and universities receive funds for dual credit programs via the higher education funding formula, Tribal colleges are not funded via the formula. Providing direct funding to these schools ensures that they receive equitable resources to sustain dual credit instruction. 

Navajo Technical University's Dual Credit Program reaches students attending 20 high schools in New Mexico. The increased funding will help the university's goal of adding two New Mexico high schools per academic year and serve more students. Attaining higher education courses as a high school student is a life-changing opportunity as many do not consider higher education as a possibility,” said Navajo Technical University President Elmer Guy, Ph.D. “NTU offers certificate programs in the trades including construction building, welding, plumbing, 
electrical, automotive, culinary arts, and energy systems. Dual credit students work to achieve the skills and knowledge to be successfully employed in careers that are meaningful to them. Students can also choose a pathway to an associate degree that becomes the springboard to a bachelor's degree and beyond. Our Dual Credit Program creates the foundation for the Navajo, Zuni, and any student to access higher education opportunities that are within their reach as never before.

Addressing hunger in New Mexico is a priority of Gov. Lujan Grisham, and this year the agency is requesting $2 million via the Gov. Lujan Grisham Food, Farm, and Hunger Initiative, a partnership with 12 cabinet agencies in the state. According to a 2021 research report conducted by the Basic Needs Project at the University of New Mexico, one third of college students reported facing food insecurity. This funding will go toward food security initiatives driven by colleges, universities, and community partners to establish meal programs and services, including New Mexico Grown, that directly impact college students. 

Specific funding requests for the New Mexico Higher Education Department in FY24 are as follows:  

  • Sustaining tuition-free college: $100 million, a 25% increase for the Opportunity Scholarship to provide tuition-free college to all students eligible for the scholarship during the 2023-2024 school year. This investment will make up less than two percent of the state’s overall budget and can bring a return on investment of 130% or more from the contributions of New Mexico graduates.    
  • Supporting essential workforce needs: $15 million, a $13.4 million increase for the Health Professional Loan Repayment Fund to provide debt relief for student loans held by healthcare professionals working in high-need service areas and sectors across New Mexico.  The Department also requests $10 million, a $5 million increase for the Teacher Loan Repayment Program to provide debt relief for student loans held by New Mexico teachers working in high-need subject areas and schools. Nearly 700 working teachers and nurses benefitted from these programs in the past year. 
  • Helping adult learners: $9 million, a $2.3 million increase, to grow New Mexico’s 28 adult education programs to provide services to adult learners and families across the state and another $400,000 to provide instructional materials and test vouchers for New Mexicans seeking to attain a high school equivalency credential or diploma through an approved credential provider.  
  • Providing early college opportunities for Tribal students: $600,000, more than double the funding, for the Dual Credit Program at New Mexico Tribal colleges and universities to create equity with non-Tribal schools. Two thousand Native American students participated in the dual credit program last year. 
  • Keeping food on the table for students: $2 million via the Gov. Lujan Grisham’s Food, Farm, and Hunger Initiative for food security initiatives driven by colleges, universities, and community partners to establish meal programs and services for college students. 

The New Mexico Higher Education Department also presented its funding recommendation for the state’s public colleges and universities, which includes a 5% increase to institutions’ operational funding and targeted increases to workforce education and student support programs. This includes $48.9 million for health care workforce programs, $6.9 million for teacher preparation programs, $8.7 million for student services, and $4 million for mental and behavioral health services.  

In addition to providing oversight to the state’s 29 public colleges and universities, the agency administers funding for state scholarship and grant programs, provides state authorization to private and proprietary schools, oversees adult education and family literacy programs across the state, and administers the federally-funded GEAR UP college readiness program.