President Joe Biden’s appearance at Central New Mexico Community College focused on student debt relief and gave the state’s Democratic leaders a chance to boast about new education opportunities offered to students from preschool up to college.
“New Mexico is seen as one of the fastest and maybe the one or two fastest growing, inclusive college enrollment in the nation,” Biden said.
Biden touted the student loan debt relief website, urging people who make less than $125,000 a year to apply for up to $10,000 to cover student loan debt. He said nearly 16 million Americans and more than 150,000 New Mexicans are set up to have their loans approved. Then he blamed Republicans for stalling the payment process with a lawsuit.
“Republican members of the Congress and Republican governors and doing everything they can including taking us to court to deny relief, and even to their own constituents,” he said. “Their outrage is simply wrong.”
The president stopped by CNM before he took part in a rally for the New Mexico Democratic Party in the South Valley.
CNM students Eva Marr and Candice Clark watched from the front row Thursday as Biden outlined student debt relief policies they said will alleviate stress once they graduate, as they also help their families through education investments created by New Mexico leaders.
Without the aid, school would not be an option.
“It means the difference of getting an education or not for me,” Clark said. “I would not be in school without it.”
Biden emphasized that his goal when running for president was to increase support for people like Marr and Clark.
“The most important goal was to give middle class families and working class families a fighting chance, they’d been on the short end of the stick for a long time, across the board,” he said. “And that’s why I said whether it’s a tax policy, whether it’s education policy, whatever it is, we’re going to build this economy from the middle out, the bottom up.”
Rep. Melanie Stansbury (D-NM) spoke before Biden and also celebrated the significance of CNM, a place she said she attended for professional development.
“I got my wastewater, OSHA and hazardous waste certifications here at (CNM). I took welding and fire science. And I even took a solar engineering and electronics class,” Stansbury said. “And I don’t want to brag, but I do wire a mean circuit.”
Clark and her husband are recipients of the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, a program signed into law in 2020 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, which covers all educational expenses at CNM and 28 other colleges in New Mexico. The couple has seven children and the first to graduate in 2023 from high school will also benefit from the scholarship to attend college in the state.
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“He’s very much interested in CNM’s Aviation Mechanics Program,” Clark said about her soon-to-be high school graduate.
She’s ecstatic at the idea a third of her household could finish college without significant debt, or even the possibility of getting $10,000 in relief to cover costs under the Biden plan.
“I just want my kids to know, and it’s the whole reason I’m joining college at 39 years old, is that they have opportunities,” Clark said. “I’m a first-generation college student, and when I grew up, it was, ‘do you want to work in the factory in this town? Or do you want to work in the factory in that town?’ That was it for opportunities for me.”
Marr has a child in preschool so she is anticipating these federal and state investments to bridge greater opportunities for her child. She already benefits from free childcare options that allow her daughter to attend school, another state initiative recently passed to subsidize or completely cover costs of childcare services.
A constitutional amendment is on the ballot in New Mexico that could increase funding for early childhood education by $200 million each year.
“My daughter’s in school five days a week, and it’s covered except I pay taxes for it. That stuff can be $2,000 a month for daycare for kids,” Marr said. “It’s amazing. And it has made such a difference. Because really being in school and having a young one, it’s really hard.”
Marr just needs to file her taxes and claim her child to get the aid to pay for child care and preschool.
The requirement for the Opportunity Scholarship means that Marr and Clark must maintain a 2.5 GPA and be enrolled in at least 6 credit hours.
They say the paperwork is seamlessly integrated in their enrollment application and does not require strenuous administrative work. They also say the cost of tuition at CNM is low enough that, mixed with Pell grants and other aid, they have extra money to buy food and other necessities for their families.
“Honestly, it’s been a lot easier to work with than the Lottery (Scholarship),” Marr said.
She took a gap year after graduating high school and said that has caused issues with getting the Lottery Scholarship, a state funded program that has funded some college expenses for more than 140,000 students in New Mexico since 1996.
“I still struggled. Some semesters I have (the Lottery Scholarship) some semesters I don’t. Opportunity (Scholarship) has been a lot more stable, and it’s always there,” she said.
Both Marr and Clark were also excited at the attention the president’s visit brought to community colleges because it validates their education experience.
“It shines a spotlight on community college and what we can do here,” Clark said.
Biden made sure to mention that First Lady Jill Biden teaches at a community college and shares the realities working class students face.
“Some of the students she meets have two or three jobs while going to school, putting it on the table helping the kids with homework, staying up late in their own home,” Biden said. “I’m here today to tell you this student loan relief plan is for them, as they recover from the economic crisis, the pandemic, and pay for their education.”