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Editorial: Make Lotto Scholarship A Means to a Good End

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A looming $5 million shortfall is forcing the New Mexico Legislature to consider restricting the 16-year-old lottery scholarship program, to students who qualify under low-income guidelines or those who demonstrate likelihood of academic success.

Sen. Michael Sanchez, D-Belen, who helped draft the scholarship legislation in 1996, and Higher Education Department Secretary José Garcia seem to be leaning toward the former. Theirs is a compassionate stance, rooted in a desire to give students who were not high achievers in high school or who come from families of little means a financial lift into college.

But their compassion is misplaced if it skews the popular program too far in that direction. Going to Pell grant-like requirements will toss more than 5,600 students out of the program. Means testing that preserves the college dream of prepared students from lower-middle and middle-class homes makes more sense.

The goal for individuals as well as the economy as a whole has to be success, not just access. New Mexico State University data shows higher-performing and better-prepared students are more likely to graduate.

Some of that preparation must come via ongoing K-12 reforms; some should come with a revision of the lottery scholarship to set students up to succeed.

That could include establishing high school performance standards so students have a tangible reason to work for them; setting stricter eligibility requirements for four-year research universities vs. two-year colleges; and requiring students to take remedial coursework at less expensive community colleges.

All were recommended in a 2010 Legislative Finance Committee report. All should be on the table.

Sanchez’s legislation limited the scholarship to two years at community colleges and four years at universities; the underlying reason is that’s how long it should take a prepared student to graduate.

Any revisions should keep that goal in mind.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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