A prosperous new future for New México starts with investing in education. In recent decades, our state has kept college tuition lower than our neighboring states, supported programs like the Lottery Scholarship, and made sure community colleges, branch campuses, and tribal universities can serve communities across our state. All of that is threatened, however, as the state budget process is politicized and funding for higher education is held hostage.
When you look at examples of state disinvestment in higher education across the nation, you see that cutting budgets for higher education leads directly to tuition increases, which are essentially tax hikes on students and their families. At a time when we need to be investing in the next generation of New México leaders and innovators, we cannot afford to make our state’s college students foot the bill for short-sighted decisions.
All the potential we could ever ask for sits in classrooms across New México. Unless we support our educators and students, from early childhood all the way through higher education, that promise will languish. I will do everything I can at the federal level to make sure all New Mexicans who strive for a college degree have a fair shot at affording it without being crushed by debt.
Pell Grants are the primary form of financial aid for millions of students, providing access to an education that might otherwise be out of reach. I was proud to secure the reinstatement of year-round Pell Grants in the latest government funding bill, which will make it possible for students to continue their education year-round and join the workforce sooner. I also recently introduced the Middle Class CHANCE Act to ensure Pell Grants remain a useful financial aid tool. My bill would adjust the value of Pell Grants for inflation, make year-round Pell Grants permanent, and increase the number of eligible semesters from 12 to 15.
We must reduce the burden of private and federal student loans. Students need greater access to loan forgiveness, repayment, and refinancing options. I also support making two years of community college tuition-free so students can earn the first half of a bachelor’s degree or the technical skills they need to succeed in the workforce.
Building a better education pipeline from cradle-to-career and from one generation to the next for high-skill jobs is the one sure way to turn our economy around. Higher education prepares students for careers here in New México and allows us to target areas where our state has the potential to create jobs and major new industries.
Preparing our students and retraining our labor force for emerging fields—like clean energy, health care, biomedicine, and advanced technology manufacturing—can power a sustainable economic future.
I have made a point of bringing our state’s major employers—like our national labs, military bases, and private industries—and educators from our public schools, universities, community colleges together to foster collaboration and think strategically about the future.
As just one example, about one third of the employees at Los Alamos and Sandia National Laboratories will become retirement eligible by the end of 2020. That means more than 5,000 jobs in our state that New Mexico graduates should be able to fill. I’ve brought Los Alamos National Laboratory leadership together with regional community colleges and universities to discuss the concrete steps we can take to better prepare New México students for the science and engineering jobs at our national labs and potential growth industries.
There are no easy answers for many of the systemic challenges we face as a state. But it’s clear that gutting opportunities for New México children and students is the absolute wrong direction to take. If we invest in our students and communities today, we will build a brighter future for the Land of Enchantment.
By Martin Heinrich
Martin Heinrich serves as a U.S. Senator from New México.