Bill would shift levels of lottery scholarship

New Mexico would no longer consider tuition rates when setting the value of its lottery scholarship under a bill passed by the Legislature, changing a calculation process that some have alleged made it easier for schools to raise student costs.

About 26,000 college students get the Legislative Lottery Scholarship each year, with the benefit set annually as a percent of average tuition at New Mexico institutions. With demand and tuition increasing, the scholarship currently pays 60 percent of tuition. That’s down from 90 percent last year and 100 percent in the past.

But new legislation that sailed through the New Mexico House and Senate would untether the scholarship amount from tuition and instead set flat rates. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. William Soules, D-Las Cruces, said his “decoupling” bill provides more certainty.

“It doesn’t have huge ramifications for anyone, but it just makes it a whole lot clearer how much money students are going to get for it,” he said of Senate Bill 140.

The legislation, which Gov. Susana Martinez has until March 7 to act upon, also removes any incentive schools might have had to up tuition with the sense that the lottery would absorb it.

“I’m not sure anybody did that purposely,” Soules said. “But this certainly takes away any impression that’s why tuition (increases) would have occurred.”

The bill sets base scholarship rates of $1,500 per semester for the students at the University of New Mexico and the state’s other research universities; $1,020 for students at the comprehensive schools; and $380 for those enrolled at community colleges. But it gives the higher education secretary authority to adjust up or down based on revenues flowing from the New Mexico Lottery.

Soules and Marc Saavedra of the Council of University Presidents – which backed the bill – say they expect the actual scholarship to be larger than the bill’s figures.

Based on the scholarship program’s 10-year revenue history, the value would be $1,720/$1,170/$436, according to a legislative analysis.

Student leaders at UNM – which has the largest number of scholarship recipients – say they took a neutral stance on the bill during the session and instead focused on other legislation meant to increase New Mexico Lottery revenues.

“However, we are happy that students will be able to better plan for their costs,” Associated Students of UNM spokesman Noah Michelsohn said in a statement.

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