How will New Mexico’s free college impact WT?

Around the U.S., there is currently $1.75 trillion in federal and private student debt. New Mexico recently became the first state in the nation to offer tuition-free college to its residents.

West Texas A&M University is one of the closest universities to New Mexico and receives a small portion of students from the state. Dr. Walter V. Wendler, president of WT, spoke on the choices students have to make when choosing where to pursue their education.

“Don’t just think about tuition and fees, but also room and board, books and other associated costs related to paying for college,” Wendler said. “Sometimes, what appears to be a good deal may not be as attractive as you thought when you look carefully at it.”

The ‘“free college” offered by New Mexico doesn’t make the entire college experience free of costs. Aside from tuition, housing, meal plans, books and other costs are still paid by students. However, having tuition, one of the largest costs of higher education, covered opens many doors for people who want to be educated.

Although WT students must pay tuition, there are other benefits to attending the University.

“This is a very robust campus and forum,” Wendler said. “For a campus of its size, there are a lot of activities that you can engage in. I think the fact that it has sort of the deep seated, very strong West Texas values is a real advantage.”

WT’s rival, Eastern New Mexico University, has similar enrollment numbers and is likely to reap the benefits of New Mexico’s move to offer tuition-free college to in-state residents. WT is located around 60 miles directly east of New Mexico and could be impacted with lower enrollment numbers in the coming semesters, along with other universities such as Texas Tech University, The University of Texas Permian Basin and The University of Texas at El Paso.

West Texas A&M University is one of the closest universities to the state of New Mexico, which has recently begun offering free tuition and fees at its public colleges and universities. (Google Maps)

Nevertheless, President Wendler is optimistic that the reputation of WT will outshine any negative effects.

“Each place has certain benefits and certain attractions,” Wendler said. “People need to look very carefully and find something that fits them. I think we have a lot to offer here at WT. When you get here and you meet the faculty, it’s remarkable how student-centered they are.”

One of the biggest draws for students at WT is the low cost of tuition. With New Mexico offering this new incentive for in-state students, WT faces competition to its matching in-state tuition promise for out-of-state students from adjacent states. However, some WT students from New Mexico are not inclined to return to their home state for the free tuition offer.

“The environment is really great, the professors are awesome and I love all my classes,” said Katie Weimer, a sophomore sports and exercise sciences major from Los Alamos, New Mexico. “I have amazing friends versus New Mexico State, [which is] a Division I school, so it’s a lot bigger. You’re not gonna be as close to your teachers and I’m in the [sports and exercise sciences] SES program, which is pretty good here. I just like WT a lot better than I think I would anywhere else.”

With these recent changes to the education system in New Mexico, many credits won’t transfer from The Texas A&M University System to New Mexico’s four-year public colleges and universities.

“I was looking at [New Mexico State University], but none of my credits would transfer,” Weimer said.

A change of schools would likely mean a restart of an education path, in addition to whatever social life students have on campus.

“[Full tuition and fees covered at New Mexico public colleges and universities] is going to make us be very careful,” Wendler said. “We will continue our strident efforts to appeal to students that are in the High Plains region, whatever state they come from.”