SANTA FE, N.M. — There’s enough money in New Mexico’s lottery-financed scholarship program to cover average tuition costs in the fall semester for eligible college students, the state Higher Education Department announced Thursday.
In a letter to universities and colleges, the department outlined what’s happening to scholarships based on changes enacted by the Legislature earlier this year to shore up the popular assistance program’s finances.
The scholarships used to cover 100 percent of tuition. But with the changes, students will receive the average tuition for the type of college they’re attending or full tuition at their school if it’s lower than the average.
The department estimated tuition averages at $2,519 a semester at the three research universities in the upcoming 2014-2015 school year, almost $1,571 for other four-year colleges and $643 at two-year community colleges.
For the fall semester, that’s the expected “full award” of the scholarships.
The spring semester remains uncertain but the department said it appeared scholarships “will be able to cover virtually all, if not entirely all” of average tuition.
If there’s not enough money in the program for the full amount, the state must lower scholarships to less than 100 percent of the tuition averages.
According to the department, about 14,800 students are expected to receive scholarships in the fall semester and about 17,860 next spring.
In the just completed 2014 spring semester, scholarships went to 17,630 students.
The state lottery is expected to generate about $40 million for scholarships in the current budget year. But without the changes enacted this year, scholarship reductions were likely for all students because lottery proceeds haven’t kept pace with rising college tuition and demand for the financial assistance.
Under the revamped program, students at research universities — the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech — must take 15 credit hours a semester to qualify for a scholarship rather than 12 hours as in the past.
The department said that change is making it more difficult to predict scholarship amounts for the spring semester because it’s uncertain how many past scholarship recipients will boost their coursework to remain eligible for the state’s financial assistance.
As in the past, students must maintain a certain grade-point average to qualify for scholarships.
The Legislature approved extra money in the state budget to keep the program solvent temporarily. The state also plans to allocate about $19 million in annual liquor tax money to supplement the scholarship program for two years starting in 2015.
Follow Barry Massey on Twitter at https://twitter.com/bmasseyAP