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Editorial: This half a scholarship isn’t better than none

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New Mexico’s future college and university students need the Legislature to work on making the state’s lottery scholarship program fiscally sustainable.

But in addition to addressing a looming $5 million shortfall, that work should include reforms that help ensure recipients succeed in getting a degree.

Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, is sponsoring HB 309, designed to shore up the 16-year-old program. Pieces of his proposals balance fiscal restraint with likely college success — having students be truly full-time with 15 credit hours per semester instead of 12; reducing the number of paid semesters from eight to seven (the first semester is not covered) so the scholarship and, ideally, students are finished in four years; paying 100 percent of tuition at two-year colleges so students get their remedial and basic coursework at more affordable credit-hour rates.

But White’s core reform — which reduces tuition coverage at four-year universities to about half the cost — focuses on short-term fiscal savings at the expense of student success. That will be costly to the state’s workforce, its higher education system and, in the long run, the economy.

Expecting students at the state’s three research universities — the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University — to come up with as much as $3,600 a year penalizes every high school graduate ready to start earning a bachelor’s.

Rather than provide a scholarship to all comers irrespective of predictors of college success — lotto scholarships are now available to all N.M. grads with a 2.5 GPA — lawmakers would do better to focus funding on students with a shot at graduating.

Raising the GPA might help. And limited means testing could be considered, as long as the bar excludes students from truly wealthy families who can afford tuition, not two-income working ones.

New Mexico is busy undergoing public school reforms designed to produce college-ready students. It is important changes to the lottery scholarship work in tandem so the fund is not only protected, but recipients have a real chance at graduating from a college or university, not just attending one.

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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