NM lottery scholarships to get big increase

Journal file

Copyright © 2018 Albuquerque Journal

One year after a steep drop in coverage, the state’s Legislative Lottery Scholarship is bouncing at least part of the way back.

Some students’ scholarships will increase by more than $1,100 a year over 2017-18 levels – a boost attributed to a legislative appropriation and shrinking scholarship demand.

The rates released this week by the state Higher Education Department reflect an extra $4 million lawmakers pumped into the program for the fiscal year that starts July 1 – a one-time allocation – combined with statewide enrollment losses. About 2,400 fewer students received the scholarship in 2017-18 than projected, leaving a $4 million surplus to apply for the coming year, according to HED.

The scholarship value will rise to $2,294 per semester at research institutions such as the University of New Mexico, up from $1,721 in 2017-18. That amounts to $1,146 more annually.

Those at “comprehensive” four-year institutions will get $1,560 per semester, compared with $1,169. The community college scholarship will rise to $581 per semester from $432.

The increase means some returning students will actually pay less for school this fall, even if their institutions hiked tuition.

At UNM – which accounts for nearly half of all the state’s lottery recipients – base-level tuition for full-time, in-state students will climb by $66 to $2,709 per semester this fall. (Costs are higher for some programs and upper-division courses.)

Terry Babbitt, UNM’s vice provost for enrollment management and analytics, said the scholarship value increase is unlikely to significantly increase UNM’s student population, which has fallen for the past five years and is projected to slip again in 2018-19. He said some eligible students may already have committed to go outside of the state before hearing this announcement, but that it could help keep some existing students in place.

“The notification comes very late in the cycle – well after initial financial aid has been packaged – but is still welcome news,” Babbitt said in an email. “The increase will hopefully deter students from stopping out who may have been on the margin of needing a few hundred dollars to stay in school. We know these amounts impact students.”

About 12,000 UNM students attended on the lottery scholarship in 2017-18. There were 26,123 total recipients statewide, according to HED.

About 26,000 scholarships are expected to be paid in 2018-19.

New Mexico has had some of the country’s largest enrollment losses. From 2016 to 2017, the state tied with Louisiana for the largest percentage drop, according to recently released data from the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.

But it was actually increased scholarship demand in recent years, compared with waning lottery revenues, that strained the program and led to value decreases. The scholarship covered just 60 percent of tuition in 2017-18, compared with 90 percent the year before.

Lawmakers this year passed legislation that untethered the scholarship from tuition rates. It is now a flat rate rather than a percentage of tuition, which supporters said would provide students more certainty. The law set it at $1,500 for research, $1,020 for comprehensive and $380 for community colleges but gives HED authority to adjust it up or down based on revenues.

Marc Saavedra, executive director of the Council of University Presidents, which represents New Mexico’s four-year colleges and universities, said this week’s scholarship news was better than he expected.

“We’re all very thankful and very, very excited about it,” he said.

New Mexico requires the lottery to put 30 percent of its gross sales into the scholarships, and recent transfers show some improvement. Year-to-date transfers are $31.1 million, compared with $28.7 million for the same time period in fiscal 2017, according to reports on the lottery’s website.

The scholarship is available to New Mexico high school graduates who attend one of the state’s public higher education institutions, take at least 12 (at community colleges) or 15 credit hours (four-year institutions) and maintain at least a 2.5 GPA.

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