President Joe Biden’s appearance at New Mexico Central Community College on Thursday focused on student debt relief and gave Democratic leaders a chance to tout new educational opportunities offered to students from pre-K to college.
“New Mexico is seen as one of the fastest growing and maybe one or two of the fastest growing inclusive colleges in the country,” Biden said.
He promoted a student loan debt relief website urging people who make less than $125,000 a year to apply for up to $10,000 in student loan debt relief. He said nearly 16 million Americans and more than 150,000 New Mexicans intend to be approved for loans. He then accused Republicans of stopping the payment process with the lawsuit.
“Republican members of Congress and Republican governors are doing everything they can, including going to court, to deny aid, and even to their own constituents,” he said. “Their outrage is just misplaced.”
The president stopped by CNM before attending a New Mexico Democratic Party rally in the South Valley.
CNM students Eva Marr and Candace Clark watched from the front row as Biden outlined student debt relief policies they say will ease stress after graduation as they also help their families through education investments made by New Mexico leaders .
“It (aid) makes the difference in getting an education or not for me,” Clark said. “I wouldn’t have gone to school without it.”
Biden emphasized that his goal in 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’ve 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 tax policy, whether it’s education policy, whatever it is, we’re going to build this economy from the middle, from the bottom up.”
Rep. Melanie Stansberry (D-NM) addressed Biden and also highlighted the importance of CNM, a place she said she attended for professional development.
“I got my sanitation, OSHA and hazardous waste certifications here at (CNM). I did welding and fire science. And I even took solar and electronics classes,” Stansbury said. “And I don’t mean to brag, but I’m hooking up an evil circuit.”
Clark and her husband are recipients of the New Mexico Opportunity Scholarship, a program signed into law in 2020 by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisch that covers the full cost of an education at CNM and 28 other New Mexico colleges. The couple has seven children, and the first to graduate from high school in 2023 will also receive a scholarship to an in-state college.
She’s excited about the idea that a third of her family could graduate college without significant debt or even the opportunity to receive $10,000 in cost-benefit assistance under Biden’s plan.
“I just want my kids to know, and that’s the whole reason I’m going to college at 39, is that they have opportunities,” Clark said. “I’m a first-generation college student, and growing up I was asked, ‘Do you want to work in a factory in this town?’ Or do you want to work in a factory in that city?” It was an opportunity for me.”
Marr has a child in preschool, so she expects the federal and state investment to open up more opportunities for her child. She is already taking advantage of free childcare options that allow her daughter to attend school, another government initiative recently passed to subsidize or fully cover the cost of childcare services.
New Mexico is considering a constitutional amendment that could increase funding for early childhood education by $200 million each year.
Both Marr and Clark were excited about the attention the president’s visit has brought to community colleges because it validates their educational background.
“It shines a light on the community college and what we can do here,” Clark said.
Biden made sure to point out that First Lady Jill Biden teaches at a community college and shares the realities that working-class students face.
“Some of the students she meets have two or three jobs while going to school, putting on the table, helping the kids with homework, staying up late at home,” Biden said. “I’m here today to tell you that this student loan relief plan is for them as they recover from the economic crisis, the pandemic, and pay for their education.”
This article was first published by Source New Mexico, a sister publication of the Nebraska Examiner.