Perspective on the News

By Madeline Taub    //    Volume 27,  Number 6   //    November/December 2019

A Proposal for Tuition-Free College for New Mexico Students

Free college for all in-state residents for an entire undergraduate degree (of up to four years)? That just may happen in New Mexico.

In September 2019, New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham introduced a proposal to the New Mexico Legislature to provide tuition-free college for every eligible in-state student at the 29 public colleges and universities in New Mexico. The program—the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship—would effectively cover any tuition and fees not paid for by federal grants or the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship, so students would have 100 percent of their tuition covered, thereby making their education free. The program would be available for every in-state student regardless of family income and would impact an estimated 55,000 New Mexico students.

If passed, this program would be the first of its kind in the nation to provide free tuition to all eligible state residents for postsecondary education. As reported by the New York Times, 17 other states have a variety of programs providing free college to at least some students, citing data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. New York was the first state to make tuition free for low- to middle-income families at its public institutions in 2017. California passed legislation to provide free state tuition for first-time, full-time students in the state for two years of community college in August 2019. Other states that have some free college initiatives for some students include Maryland, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

“By covering the last dollar of tuition and fees, by making college significantly more accessible to New Mexicans of every income, of every background, of every age, we are putting students first,” said Grisham in a statement. “In the long run, we’ll see improved economic growth, improved outcomes for New Mexican workers and families and parents, and a better trained and better compensated workforce.”

Smaller Boards in Small Liberal Arts Colleges

A year ago, Lyon College, a small liberal arts college in Arkansas, cut their board from 32 members to 15, as Inside Higher Ed reported in an article on August 2, 2019. This drastic cut allows for more frequent meetings of the board, which, in turn, results in a hopefully more informed and engaged board.

Lyon College’s cut comes at a time when liberal arts colleges are attempting to prove their worth. Mark Schneider, the coauthor of a study released in February 2018 called Saving the Liberal Arts, said, “There’s great potential value to a liberal arts degree. But first they have to deliver that value. Then they have to tell people about it,” as reported by the Hechinger Report.

AGB has tracked data on governing boards of both public and private institutions since 1969. One of the key findings from this, published in Policies, Practices, and Composition of Governing and Foundation Boards 2016, is that public institutions meet most often at an average of 7.4 times a year, while independent institutions meet three to four times per year. According to an August 2, 2019, Inside Higher Ed article, by making the board smaller, Lyon College was able to increase their meeting times to around seven per a year, equivalent to the average for much larger schools.

Joey King, the president of Lyon College, told Inside Higher Ed, the advantage that decreasing the board size can give to a struggling liberal arts institution, “If you’re in a corporation in distress, those boards are meeting all the time. I think as higher ed goes through those convulsions it’s going through right now, they’re most hamstrung by the governance processes.”

Student Loan Forgiveness for Veterans with Disabilities

President Trump signed a directive in August 2019 that would give veterans with serious disabilities automatic federal student loan forgiveness, as opposed to having to fill out paperwork and apply for this benefit.

This action came during the American Veterans National Convention in Louisville, Kentucky. Trump signed a memorandum during the convention that he said during his speech directs the U.S. Department of Education to “eliminate every penny of federal student loan debt owed by American veterans who are completely and permanently disabled.”

According to an August 21, 2019, article by The New York Times, of the 50,000 veterans with permanent disabilities in the United States only about half were qualified for debt relief prior to this action. These qualifying veterans will also be exempt from paying federal income tax on the relieved debt.

In May, 53 attorneys general from states and territories urged the Department of Education “to take prompt action to satisfy its statutory mandate to discharge the student loans of veterans who are permanently and totally disabled or otherwise unemployable.”

While the federal government had made recent efforts to make it easier for veterans to have their loans discharged due to disability, including the implementation of a data matching program between the Departments of Education and Veterans Affairs, eligible veterans were still required to take affirmative steps to secure the loan forgiveness that is their statutory right, which according to the attorneys general, “the requirements imposed by the Department may prove insurmountable obstacles to relief for many eligible veterans due to the severe nature of their disabilities…Because America’s veterans deserve better, we ask the Department to develop an automatic discharge process to ensure that all eligible veterans can have their student loans forgiven.”

Student Loan Debt Among Older Students Threatens Financial Security

The AARP released a study in May 2019 showing that student loan debt has multigenerational impacts. Older generations owe 20 percent of the total $1.5 trillion in student loan debt that Americans owe, according to Federal Reserve data. Student loan debt as a whole has been growing, but the greatest increase has been for the older generations.

This is worrying because older generations play a big role in paying for younger generations’ educations and this increase in debt for all ages threatens “the long-term financial security of millions of families,” the AARP report states.

This reflects the change in how debts are being incurred. Originally, students were able to pay off their student debt while working and enter retirement debt-free. Now, the price of higher education has increased at a quicker pace than the increase in family incomes, causing the amount of debt to dramatically increase.

The report, The Student Loan Debt Threat: An Intergenerational Problem, explains, “This creates a large repayment burden, which squeezes budgets of young families and, in many cases, impedes and delays their ability to save for a home or for other purposes such as retirement.” Student debt is starting to impact not only the student, but the entire family as older generations take on debt for the students. This includes taking out direct loans and cosigning loans with younger generations who may not be able to make their repayments. This cycle will continue as current students grow up, unable to pay off their own debt and therefore less likely to be able to save sufficiently for their own children and grandchildren.

This report was confirmed in August by the U.S. Department of Education’s data, gathered from the National Center for Education Statistics’ National Post-secondary Student Aid Study. Data showed the same dramatic increase of older students’ borrowing rates.

Monitoring Chinese Students and Scholars

In June 2019, the FBI encouraged American research institutions to monitor students and scholars affiliated with Chinese research institutions. These encouragements come at a time of increasing suspicion of the Chinese government by the United States. Since July 2018, Chinese students studying in STEM fields have also had delayed visas due to an increase in the amount of scrutiny they must undergo.

Administrators such as the vice president of research at Indiana University, Fred Cate, have commented on the FBI’s request. Cate told NPR in an article from June 28, 2019, “We are being asked what processes are in place to know what labs they are working at or what information they are being exposed to.”

Several universities such as UC Berkeley and Yale University released statements this past year showing their support of their Chinese and Chinese-American faculty and students.

FBI Director Christopher Wry explained their actions against Chinese students and faculty at the Council on Foreign Relations saying, “The Chinese intelligence services strategically use every tool at their disposal—including state-owned businesses, students, researchers and ostensibly private companies—to systematically steal information and intellectual property,” as NPR reported.

In August 2019, Pen America released a statement from associations and free speech groups such as the American Association of University Professors, the Asian American Unity Coalition, the Heterodox Academy, and the National Coalition Against Censorship. The report warns the United States government to “tread carefully” with these calls for monitoring Chinese students and scholars. The statement validates concerns about “tech-enabled authoritarianism” but criticizes the way the concerns have been addressed saying, “calls to monitor individuals solely based on their country of origin violate norms of due process and should raise alarms in a democracy.”


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