LAS CRUCES – New Mexico State University says it will cover up to 60 percent of spring tuition for students on lottery scholarships should the state Legislature fail to fund a shortfall.
Some 14,400 students depend on the lottery fund statewide to pay their college tuition, the majority at NMSU and the University of New Mexico. NMSU would be on the hook to cover some $6.5 million in tuition expenses – a worst-case scenario, says NMSU spokesman Justin Bannister, should lawmakers not come through with short-term funding for the program in the 2014 legislative session.
NMSU Provost Dan Howard said Friday he believes that is an “extraordinarily unlikely scenario,” but the university wants to alleviate any uncertainty for students as they register for spring semester, which is happening now.
“One of the reasons we’re willing to make this commitment is our confidence that the state will continue to support the lottery scholarship,” he said. “We do not expect to have to come up with that 60 percent. If it comes to it, we will find it. But we think it’s an extraordinarily unlikely scenario.”
At UNM, officials are taking a wait-and-see approach. “We are continuing to gather information and are monitoring the situation closely,” President Bob Frank said Friday. “We are confident that the governor and the Legislature will make decisions that will be in the best interest of our students.”
Lawmakers are faced with coming up with a longer-term solution to repair the lottery scholarship fund, something they failed to do during this year’s session. The lottery brought in $41 million in revenue in 2012 while its scholarship commitments totaled $58 million.
The problems began in the 2008-2009 fiscal year, when the fund began paying out more in tuition costs than it earned from lottery proceeds. Excess revenue from prior years, which previously helped prop up the program, has been drained, and the Legislature has been plugging the hole in funding.
NMSU’s 60 percent tuition guarantee represents “a short-term solution for the spring semester,” said Bernadette Montoya, NMSU vice president for student affairs and enrollment.
During the 2013 legislative session, lawmakers failed to pass any of the bills aiming to fix the scholarship program, including proposals to tighten eligibility requirements or reduce the amount of money students receive. Nearly 4,200 students at NMSU depend on the lottery scholarship, which began in 1996.
The 2014 legislative session starts Jan. 21.
Journal staff writer Mike Bush contributed to this report.