ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Copyright © 2014 Albuquerque Journal
Phil and Darlene Capshaw’s three daughters were born in New Mexico and attended school in Albuquerque until his civilian job with the military transferred the family overseas.
That was several years ago, and the girls continued their schooling in Europe. Eventually, in 2004, the eldest graduated from a Department of Defense high school in Germany; the younger twins finished three years later at a U.S. military school in England.
When the Capshaws came home in 2009, the young women applied to the University of New Mexico, fully expecting in-state tuition and the Bridge to Success and Legislative Lottery scholarships. But those doors slammed shut.
UNM offers the bridge scholarship to students eligible to receive lottery scholarships. The bridge award is for a student’s first semester, after which the lottery scholarship kicks in. State law requires lottery recipients to have spent their senior high school year in New Mexico schools.
Nor were the sisters immediately eligible for the lower, in-state tuition rates offered to New Mexicans.
The Capshaws had expected a different reception upon their return to the Land of Enchantment.
“That was quite an experience,” Darlene Capshaw said in an interview last week. Her family had spent 10 years overseas with the Army & Air Force Exchange Services, a 118-year-old retail service for the two military branches. The exchange’s directors report to the secretaries of the Army and Air Force through their chiefs of staff. “We go where you go in serving troops worldwide,” it tells visitors to its website.
Eventually, the sisters – Lauren Morganti and Samantha and Kathleen Capshaw – were granted in-state tuition, but only after their parents had coughed up 10 years of back state taxes. Darlene Capshaw said that when they left for Europe, they had been advised they wouldn’t have to pay state taxes – advice that turned out to be incorrect.
The daughters, however, still were not allowed to apply for the two scholarships that automatically go to graduates of New Mexico high schools who meet certain requirements.
New Mexico law provides that “Except as otherwise authorized … the legislative lottery scholarships authorized in this section shall apply only to full-time resident students who, immediately upon completion of a high school curriculum at a public or accredited private New Mexico high school or upon receiving a graduate equivalent diploma, are accepted for entrance to and attend one of the state educational institutions.”
The only exceptions are made for high school graduates who join the U.S. Armed Forces within 120 days of graduation, and military veterans who apply to the universities and for the scholarships within a year after their honorable or medical release from the service.
During the 2006 legislative session, a move was made to include military dependents, but it failed to pass.
Chris Sanchez, spokesman for the New Mexico Higher Education Department, said eligibility requirements for the scholarships are outlined in state law and can be changed only by the Legislature.
“Through the years, there have been several attempts to change the eligibility requirements to address similar situations,” Sanchez said, referring to the Capshaws. “However, those attempts have failed to pass the Legislature.”
“It’s sad because there’s a whole group of people that falls right in the middle of the crack,” Darlene Capshaw said.
Her sister, Denise Baker, sees irony in what she believes is the ease with which undocumented immigrants receive in-state tuition rates and scholarships, compared with the many hoops her nieces had to jump through. “Something is seriously wrong with our system,” she said.
As part of a non-discrimination policy, New Mexico lawmakers passed legislation in 2005 that allows students to receive lottery scholarship money regardless of their immigration status. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 16 states now have provisions allowing in-state tuition rates for undocumented students.
The Capshaws, Baker said, still belonged to a local church, had voted in New Mexico elections, paid taxes, were U.S. citizens, owned their own home and lived in New Mexico most of their lives.
Eventually, the oldest of the three sisters, Lauren Morganti, graduated from UNM with a degree in foreign languages. She is now a convention official at the Hyatt Regency Hotel, her mother said.
Kathleen Capshaw began college at UNM, then transferred to Simon Frazier University in Vancouver, Canada. She has been accepted to return to UNM to complete the final 81 hours of her undergraduate studies and plans to begin soon. She also works full time.
Samantha Capshaw attended UNM for about two years but is now a stay-at-home mother with a baby. All three young women ended up paying in-state tuition but were not awarded either scholarship.
“Residency is not the issue,” said Darlene Capshaw. “The issue is the requirement of spending the last year of high school in New Mexico, even when you are out of the country on military orders. If my husband had been in the military, the girls would have qualified for military scholarships, but not New Mexico scholarships. It’s very confusing.”