2024 Most Affordable Colleges in New Mexico

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College in New Mexico is affordable. In-state tuition starts out cheap, and savvy students can make it even cheaper by proactively submitting the FAFSA early and directly contacting their school’s financial aid for scholarship deadlines. State financial aid is sufficient to get most students through college without significant debt, with a host of merit-based scholarships within reach along with two need-based grants. Certain graduates who do end up with debt due to advanced studies — scientists, engineers, teachers, healthcare workers and lawyers — can have their loans forgiven in return for service in a high-need geographical or professional area. Beyond tuition and fees, government social services can make the other costs associated with college — room and board — affordable as well. To find out how to get financial aid or where to capitalize on social services, keep reading.

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How to Transfer College Credits in New Mexico

New Mexico students are able to transfer completed college credit simply between higher education institutions. The state’s transfer system offers a transferable core of lower-division courses, statewide common course numbering, and statewide guaranteed transfer of associate degrees.

The General Education Core Course Transfer Curriculum offers students in New Mexico a clear understanding of the courses that will easily transfer between institutions. This core includes courses in five areas with specific hour requirements for each. The completed core of courses will transfer to a new institution in New Mexico. Additionally, with statewide common course numbering, both students and institutions can clearly identify course equivalents that have been completed at other institutions.

New Mexico offers a statewide guaranteed transfer of associate degrees. Transfer modules include 64 to 66 hours of credit, and are guaranteed to transfer to any New Mexico university. Transfer modules are available in business, criminal justice, early childhood education and more. Courses will be applied toward bachelor’s degree program requirements.

State Financial Aid for New Mexico Students

The New Mexico Higher Education Department is the government body that handles financial aid for public colleges in the state. Its goal is to make public postsecondary education both cheap and desirable enough to convince state residents to study there. It starts with some of the lowest tuition and fees in the country for in-state students, and then piles on grants, scholarships and loan repayment programs. On its website, you’ll find a hyperlinked list of schools and a rundown of all the department-financed college aid programs you can use to attend these schools. Keep an eye on these pages because award applications will only be available on them during specific time periods, as noted below. To get more help making college in New Mexico affordable, consider posing your financial aid and admissions questions to NMKnowledge4College, which connects prospective students to advisors via a chat app. The site is run by College Goal Sunday, and you can also use it to get assistance filling out the FAFSA.

New Mexico Student Grants

College Affordability Grant

Summary: New Mexican residents who don’t qualify for other financial awards but who nonetheless have financial need can get a $2,000 renewable grant.

Eligibility: New Mexican residents must use the grant to attend a public college on at least a part-time basis.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA, and contact your school’s financial aid office for specific instructions.

Student Incentive Grant

Summary: Like the College Affordability Grant, this award is reserved for students with financial need. The award goes up to $2,500 a year.

Eligibility: New Mexican residents must use the grant to attend a public college on at least a part-time basis.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA, and contact your school’s financial aid office for specific instructions.

New Mexico Student Scholarships

Athletic Scholarship

Summary: Student-athletes from anywhere in the country can earn full tuition to join a New Mexico college team.

Eligibility: The student must attend Eastern New Mexico University, New Mexico Highlands University, New Mexico Junior College, New Mexico State University, University of New Mexico or Western New Mexico University.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for specific instructions.

Bridge Scholarship

Summary: The Lottery Scholarship (see below) covers semesters 2 through 8, but the Bridge Scholarship potentially covers tuition for semester 1.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents who are freshmen at a public college in the state can earn the scholarship.

How to Apply: Each college determines eligibility, so contact your school’s financial aid office for application instructions.

Competitive Scholarship

Summary: The Competitive Scholarship is used to recruit non-residents to public colleges in New Mexico. Getting this scholarship typically means being treated as a resident for tuition purposes.

Eligibility: Only students enrolled in a four-year undergraduate program are eligible. They must meet GPA and ACT requirements established by the school.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for application instructions.

Firefighters and Peace Officers’ Survivors Scholarship

Summary: Full public college tuition goes to spouses and children of New Mexico firefighters and peace officers who died in uniform.

Eligibility: Applicants must be under 21 and residents of New Mexico.

How to Apply: Before the start of the school year, email [email protected] to get an application.

Graduate Scholarship

Summary: $7,200 a year is on the table for graduate students from underrepresented groups. In return, students must work as unpaid interns or assistants 10 hours a week for the school or a government agency or company approved by their academic department.

Eligibility: There are no strict eligibility restrictions, but priority goes to New Mexico residents with substantial financial need.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for application instructions.

Legislative Lottery Scholarship Program

Summary: Outgoing high school seniors get a soft landing in college by having part of their tuition paid automatically through this program.

Eligibility: Graduates of a New Mexico high school who attend a public college in the state can earn the scholarship starting the second semester of their freshmen year. To maintain the scholarship, they must complete 12 credits per semester at a community college or 15 at a four-year college.

How to Apply: There is no application. However, since each college determines eligibility, contact your school’s financial aid office for details.

New Mexico Scholars Scholarship

Summary: The only state-funded scholarship available to undergraduate students attending either public or private colleges, this award pays for tuition, fees and books to high-achieving New Mexico high schoolers from families with incomes below $60,000.

Eligibility: Students can meet the minimum eligibility criteria in one of two ways: graduate in the top 5% of their class or score 25 on the ACT (or 1140 on the SAT). Students must enroll full time to claim the scholarship.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for application instructions.

New Mexico Student Loans & Repayment Programs

Allied Health Loan for Service

Summary: The state needs more physician assistants, particularly in rural areas and nonprofit facilities. To get them, they’re giving students seeking licensure $12,000 a year in loans if they agree to work professionally in a healthcare shortage area in the state after graduation.

Eligibility: Residents of New Mexico with financial need qualify if they are attending a public college in the state at least half time, either as a graduate or undergraduate student. Loans will go to those studying in specific fields.

How to Apply: Submit the FASFA after January 1st and the loan application between May 15th and July 1st. You must ask your school to certify your enrollment.

Health Professional Loan Repayment Program

Summary: Payback isn’t always bad. In this case, healthcare workers can get $25,000 a year in education loans paid back if they agree to work for two years in a medical shortage area in the state.

Eligibility: The initiative is reserved for professions in which at least a graduate degree is required. Applicants must be New Mexico residents but not necessarily graduates of a public college in the state (though these get priority). They must have a New Mexico license by July 1st and work full time in an eligible facility.

How to Apply: Submit the HPLRP application between March 15th and May 2nd to the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

John R. Justice Loan Repayment Program

Summary: Up to $8,300 a year in loan repayment goes to each state prosecutor and public defender in New Mexico selected for this program.

Eligibility: Though any full-time attorneys licensed in the state may apply, provided they have not defaulted on any federal student loans, priority goes to attorneys who cannot easily afford to repay their loans.

How to Apply: Submit the application between April 1st and May 2nd to the New Mexico Higher Education Department.

Medical Loan for Service

Summary: The primary difference between the Medical Loan-for-Service Program and the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program is that the former requires an upfront commitment. Aspiring physicians who agree to work in a medical shortage area in the state after graduation will get a loan worth up to $25,000 a year, depending on their financial need. If they follow through with their commitment, the loan is forgiven.

Eligibility: To be eligible, New Mexico residents must have financial need and enroll at least half time in a medical school in the state (i.e., University of New Mexico School of Medicine).

How to Apply: Submit the FASFA after January 1st and the loan application between May 15th and July 1st. You’ll need to work with your school to certify your enrollment.

Minority Doctoral Loan for Service Program

Summary: STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields tend to be dominated by white males. This program addresses the imbalance by loaning underrepresented groups (i.e., women and ethnic minorities) money for doctoral study in exchange for an agreement to teach at a New Mexico public university after graduation. If they follow through with their commitment, the loan is forgiven.

Eligibility: U.S. citizens who graduated from a New Mexico four-year public college in a STEM subject may apply, provided they are admitted into a doctoral program and have been recommended by their school.

How to Apply: Submit the loan application and supplemental documents to your college between March 1st and March 15th. If the school can commit to hiring you after graduation, it will then submit your name to the New Mexico Higher Education Department, which will decide the recipients.

Nurse Educator Loan for Service

Summary: Up to $7,500 a year goes to current and aspiring nursing educators who want to enroll in BS, MS or PhD programs. They must commit to continued service in their role after earning their degree in order for the loan to be forgiven.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents in a New Mexico public college nursing program can apply.

How to Apply: Submit the loan application to the New Mexico Higher Education Department between May 15th and July 1st. You’ll need to work with your school to certify your enrollment.

Nursing Loan for Service

Summary: There aren’t enough nurses to go around in New Mexico, so the state loans
up to $12,000 a year to nursing students with financial need. The catch? They must agree to work in a medical shortage area after graduation to have the loan forgiven.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents enrolled at least half time in a New Mexico public college nursing program qualify based on financial need.

How to Apply: Submit the FASFA after January 1st and a loan application between May 15th and July 1st. You’ll need to have your school certify your enrollment.

Public Service Law Loan Repayment Program

Summary: Calling all do-gooders: Get $7,200 annually wiped from your debt by working in public service law through employment with the state or local government or a nonprofit sector for three years.

Eligibility: Recipients cannot make more than $55,000 a year working for an eligible employer and must be a licensed attorney in New Mexico. They must have law school loans that aren’t in default and need to have exhausted other repayment programs at their law school before applying.

How to Apply: Submit a loan application to the New Mexico Higher Education Department between October 15th and December 1st.

Teacher Loan for Service

Summary: New Mexico needs teachers, too. And the state will give education students needing financial aid up to $4,000 a year in forgivable loans if they commit to teaching in the state after earning a license.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents enrolled at least part time in a teaching program at a New Mexico public college, whether at the undergraduate or graduate level, qualify, but they must have demonstrable financial need.

How to Apply: Submit the FASFA after January 1st and the loan application between May 15th and July 1st. Your school must certify your enrollment.

Teacher Loan Repayment Program

Summary: Educators who already have their teaching credentials can still get their federal loans repaid by working with high-risk students in the state for two years.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents who are licensed to teach in the state qualify if they work at a public school that a) serves primarily low-income families and b) earns a D or F grade from the public education department. Though any resident can apply, graduates of New Mexico public colleges get first shot.

How to Apply: Submit an application to the New Mexico Higher Education Department between March 1st to May 2nd.

WICHE Loan for Service

Summary: Prospective veterinarians and dentists in New Mexico can cross state lines to study at a lower tuition if they promise to return to the state afterward and practice. If they follow through, their loan will be forgiven.

Eligibility: New Mexico public high school graduates and/or long-term residents are eligible, provided they are accepted to an eligible university‘s veterinary medicine or dentistry program.

How to Apply: Submit an application to the New Mexico Higher Education Department between August 1st and October 15th. (Renewal applicants must submit between May 15th and July 1st.)

Education Assistance for New Mexico Military & Veterans

Children of Deceased Veterans Scholarship

Summary: The children of veterans who died due to service-related wounds receive full tuition at state public colleges along with a $150 stipend per semester for education-related expenses.

Eligibility: Veterans must have been New Mexico residents. Children are eligible up to the age of 26.

How to Apply: Submit a filled-out application to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services.

In-State Tuition for Veterans

Summary: Veterans and their families can get fast-tracked for New Mexico residency so they can attend a public college in New Mexico at the lower in-state rate.

Eligibility: Applicants must have GI Bill education benefits available for use.

How to Apply: Contact the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services to indicate you’d like to utilize this service.

Vietnam Veterans’ Scholarship

Summary: Long-term New Mexico residents who served in the Vietnam War don’t have to worry about paying for tuition, fees or books if they want to attend a public college in the state.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents who were honorably discharged and have lived in the state for at least 10 years qualify.

How to Apply: Contact your school’s financial aid office for application insturctions.

Wartime Veteran Scholarship

Summary: Veterans who have used up all their GI education benefits can still get one more chance to go to a public college in New Mexico without paying for tuition or books.

Eligibility: The program is open to combat veterans who have served since 1990 and have resided in New Mexico for at least the past 10 years. They can attend either undergraduate or graduate programs.

How to Apply: Submit a filled-out application to the New Mexico Department of Veterans Services.

Additional Support for New Mexico Students

New Mexico Work Study Program

Summary: New Mexico residents can work their way through college if they qualify for a state-subsidized job at any of these schools: Crownpoint Institute of Technology, Dine College, Institute of American Indian Art, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute, St. John’s College or University of the Southwest.

Eligibility: New Mexico residents enrolled at least half time in an undergraduate or graduate program are eligible, provided they have financial need.

How to Apply: Submit the FAFSA, and contact your school’s financial aid office for specifics.

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Cheaper College Living in New Mexico

Tuition and fees are only a portion of the overall cost of college. Equally important is cost of living, especially considering that pursuing a higher education cuts into the time you have available to bring in income. Fortunately, outside of Santa Fe and a few other areas, New Mexico is a relatively cheap place to live. But if it doesn’t feel that affordable to you, there are government programs for low-income residents that can help. The New Mexico Human Services Department runs SNAP for people who need money for groceries, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) for those who struggle paying for heat in the winter and AC in the summer, and Centennial Care (Medicaid) for people who can’t afford healthcare without subsidies. Apply directly at Yes New Mexico or visit a government field office. You might also contact your local community action agency, which is responsible for administering programs that fight poverty, including several of those mentioned above. If you want more details about what resources are available for low-income students in your county, log in to Share New Mexico.

On-Campus Housing

Campus housing in New Mexico, when it’s available (many junior colleges such as Northern New Mexico College don’t have campus housing), is usually very reasonable, in line with the state’s low overall cost of housing. University of New Mexico, for instance, works to be both affordable and flexible. Its rates are substantially lower than average prices in its host city, Albuquerque, and even better when you factor in utilities, security and other perks of living on campus. But UNM still recognizes that scraping money together for living costs each semester can be a hardship, which is why it allows for payment plans. If you’re attending one of the state’s colleges for native Americans, you’ll benefit even more from low-cost campus accommodations. Housing assistance is available to members of recognized tribes via NAHASDA at Navajo Technical UniversitySouthwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute students, meanwhile, might find enough in their couch cushions for on-campus accommodations. Use the MappingYourFuture.org calculator to see whether your financial situation is improved more by living on or off campus.

Off-Campus Housing

The price of rent is all over the place in New Mexico: Las Cruces is usually relatively affordable, but Santa Fe is not (and Santa Fe Community College doesn’t have on-campus lodging). What’s more, not all New Mexico colleges bend over backwards to help students find off-campus housing, perhaps because many of the schools are located in smaller cities and rural areas without loads of nearby accommodation to point to. The general rule, though, is that larger schools help out with off-campus housing, which manifests in different ways. If you go to Central New Mexico Community College’s (CNM) main campus, you’ll have to see the Student Activities office on the main campus to find a list of area apartments for Albuquerque. But if you’re at the CNM Rio Rancho campus, you’re on your own. UNM, however, has a webpage for off-campus students to find housing, which features a Craigslist-ish housing list. If your college doesn’t have recommendations, take to the internet. Your first stop should be CampusRent.com, but you can also try Uloop.com and MyApartmentMap.com. For more immediate housing concerns, consider leafing through SHARE New Mexico’s list of shelters.


Despite the heat in New Mexico, utility costs hover around the national average. That said, if you’ve chosen to live off campus, you may still need assistance paying bills. Most state residents get electricity from PNM. If that’s the case for you, sign up for a free home energy checkup, in which a technician looks over your heating unit, air conditioner, appliances and insulation, then makes recommendations on how to save money on your bill. While you’re at it, get a free shower head from New Mexico Gas Company; it’s designed to cut both your water bill and your gas bill. You may even qualify for direct financial assistance as well through the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program or the NM Energy $mart Program. The former gives you money during peak usage months to offset some of your bills, while the latter goes a step further than a home energy checkup by actually paying for repairs that will lower utility bills. Depending on where you attend school, getting reliable high-speed internet as an off-campus student may be your biggest utility headache, thanks to the state’s rural composition. If you’re attending UNM’s two-year campus in Taos, for instance, you might find yourself paying a lot for sluggish internet.

Medical & Dental

The biggest hospital in the state is actually at UNM, but hopefully you won’t need to use its trauma center or other unique offerings. Students at UNM will probably just head to SHAC (student health and counseling), which is partly funded by student fees and therefore provides healthcare at a low rate. Unlike many school health centers, it does charge a small fee for counseling. This could be because its psychiatric counseling services are more substantial than other campuses, which are more likely to provide referrals for anything beyond school-related anxiety. If that’s the case, it’s worth looking at the Behavioral Health Collaborative of New Mexico, which has a searchable directory of mental health clinics. New Mexico State University’s Campus Health Center has a similar structure, providing acute care, mental health, women’s health and immunizations. Outpatient visits are covered by the student health fee, and laboratory and mental health consultations cost less than they might at a Las Cruces hospital. Need to go off campus for care? The New Mexico Primary Care Association maintains a directory of safety net clinics in the state. You can find dozens of clinics that will check out a cough (primary care), treat depression (behavioral health) or fix a broken tooth (dental), even if you don’t think you can pay for it. That last service might be particularly important, unless you can make it to one of UNM’s dental clinics in Albuquerque, where you can get a sizable discount on everything from a cleaning to a root canal. If you qualify for Centennial Care (Medicaid), you have more options. And if you’re a member of a recognized tribe, you may be able to get healthcare for free via Indian Health Service, a federal program active in New Mexico.

Child Care

Most colleges help their adult students at least find child care. Central New Mexico Community College is one such example, as it publishes a directory of area day care facilities. Other colleges leverage their own early childhood education programs to provide low-cost child care to students. Enrollees at University of New Mexico can sign their kids (0 to 5 years old) up for day care at the UNM Children’s Campus for 25% off the published rate. New Mexico State University, meanwhile, has the Myrna’s Children’s Village, which runs five different child care programs, including Head Start. Other schools with child care centers include UNM Gallup and Santa Fe Community College.

Considering the potentially high price for child care, even at campus-based facilities, you may need to explore the Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP) from the New Mexico Children, Youth & Families Department. It’s a subsidy program for people living on income that’s less than 150% of the poverty line but who have children ages 13 or below that need supervision. Find a child care center at New Mexico Kids, but before you do, familiarize yourself with the STAR rating system for child care centers, which has an effect on the amount of any CCAP subsidy.


Want to save money during college? Don’t buy a car. The loan payments, insurance, gas and on-campus parking costs all conspire to make it a pricey investment. Instead, first see how well you fare by taking advantage of transportation discounts for students, which schools typically advertise on their websites. For instance, CNM and UNM students can get on ABQ RIDE buses for free just by flashing a student ID. The UNM shuttle system even links up with the ABQ RIDE city bus system, and students can track where either a shuttle or bus is at any time via the Where’s My Bus? website. If you do have a car, NMSU has Aggie Transit, which is particularly useful for getting from parking lots to class. If you live in Santa Fe, Taos, Los Alamos or Rio Arriba counties or nearby pueblos, check out the North Central Regional Transit District (NCRTD). Several of its routes are free to use and those that aren’t are still cheap.


New Mexico ranks second in the nation for hunger, and many of the state’s schools recognize that some students are skipping meals because they can’t afford them. New Mexico State University established the Aggie Cupboard because it found that over 33% of its students had to choose between paying bills and buying food at some point. Go there to get nonperishable staples without any hassle. The state’s other major college, University of New Mexico, distributes food to students once a month through the Lobo Food Pantry. Food pantries off campus usually have more questions and may ask for proof of financial hardship, but if you need one, you need one. Search for a food pantry in your area via the New Mexico Association of Food Banks. And if you have a small child (or one on the way), you may qualify for free staple items at grocery stores. Learn more about the WIC program and apply at the New Mexico Department of Health.

SEE ALSO: Our Encyclopedic Guide to Saving Money as a College Student.

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College in Albuquerque on a Budget

The Duke City is New Mexico’s largest and home to multiple colleges, most notably Central New Mexico Community College, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute and University of New Mexico. Although, in general, housing costs in the state are higher than the national average, this is unlikely to affect college students for a few reasons. First, it’s a tad expensive to buy a home in Albuquerque, but quite cheap to rent one. Additionally, UNM’s and SIPI’s residence hall rates beat off-campus rent handily. Given the presence of the UNM Hospital, students in the vicinity can be assured of high-quality medical care at nonprofit prices, should they unexpectedly need it. Last, transportation isn’t an issue: CNM and UNM students get around town for free on ABQ RIDE.

Where to Go for Help in Albuquerque

As the most-populous city in the state, Albuquerque is a nexus for a range of nonprofits. These are worth paying attention to no matter what your situation because some offer high school tutoring, others provide scholarships to make college financially feasible, and still others step in when you need a safety net. Here are a few:

  • The Albuquerque Community Foundation has scholarships for high schoolers on the cusp of college as well as students already attending a school in the state. Some are general, but many have specific requirements, meaning there’s something for everyone. So, for example, if you’re planning to go into advertising, played soccer at Eldorado High School, or love welding, you’re in luck.
  • The City of Albuquerque Family & Community Services Department is a great place to go if you have children. It runs Head Start and other child care initiatives, including a Playground Recreation Program that gives kids a structured and fun way to spend their summers.
  • College Prep Programs at UNM are trying to get you into college, even if you want to apply elsewhere. The College Readiness Program provides mentors and runs regular seminars exploring how to research schools and programs, apply to college, and pay for it. It’s detail-oriented, so you’ll come out with a stronger resume, a punchier personal statement, and a step-by-step plan for applying to scholarships.

Don’t see what you’re looking for? Things like child care subsidies, housing initiatives and programs for native American students are all covered in the CNM directory of community resources. The City of Albuquerque produces a similar guide, which overlaps in many areas, but not completely.

College in Las Cruces on a Budget

In exchange for relative isolation — the nearest functioning airport is in El Paso, Texas, over 50 miles away — Las Cruces residents enjoy a relatively low cost of living, with everything seeming cheaper, except for the food. NMSU students ride free on Las Cruces buses, and Doña Ana Community College students can hitch a ride to East Campus for free. And medical care is also fairly cheap — NMSU students already pay a health fee for the use of the campus health center (but pay extra for additional services); DACC students can pay a per semester fee to be covered by the same clinic.

Where to Go for Help in Las Cruces

  • The Community Action Agency of Southern New Mexico works with you to find a program that matches your needs. Low on funds and working toward college? It might set you up with an individual development account, which gives $4 for every $1 you save. Need income tax figures before you can submit the FAFSA? Get accounting help for free. Think you might qualify for state benefits? It will pre-screen you for SNAP (food stamps) and Centennial Care (Medicaid).
  • The Community Foundation of Southern New Mexico exists in part to connect area residents to college scholarships. See what you qualify for, and apply.
  • Mesilla Valley Public Housing Authority has 663 units for people with low or moderate incomes, not to mention 249 low-rent public housing units and Housing Choice Vouchers (HCVs) for people who want help with rental payments at the location of their choice.

College in Rio Rancho on a Budget

Rio Rancho is part of the Albuquerque metropolitan area, so don’t expect too much difference in the cost of living. If you’re a student there, it likely means that you’re attending the CNM-Rio Rancho Campus or UNM Health Sciences Center, though you might also be commuting to Albuquerque. Either way, try to offset your housing rates by getting free transportation; use your student ID to hop on ABQ RIDE.

Where to Go for Help in Rio Rancho

Given their close proximity, Rio Rancho and Albuquerque share many of the same government programs and nonprofit organizations, so look first at the CNM directory of community resources for greater Albuquerque. However, there are a few resources aimed specifically at Rio Rancho residents:

Remember to flip through the CNM directory for more resources.


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