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Bill Reduces Tuition Aid From Lottery

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The latest legislative attempt to tackle the state’s depleted Lottery Scholarship fund would reduce the amount students at four-year universities get, from 100 percent of tuition to as low as 40 percent.

The bill would also cut the number of semesters students can receive the aid, from eight to seven.

“It got to the point where the money coming out of the fund exceeds the money going into the fund by about $15 million. … So we need to make a change,” Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, said. White introduced the bill, HB 309, Tuesday.

The bill aims to shore up the 16-year-old fund, which has helped more than 75,300 students pay for college. The fund has been impacted by lagging lottery ticket sales coupled with increases in student enrollment and tuition and has a projected gap of more than $5 million by July.

Any New Mexican who attends high school here and has a minimum 2.5 grade point average qualifies for the scholarship.

White said he is still working on a fiscal impact report to determine how much money could be saved with his proposed reductions.

The changes would affect only four-year colleges. The fund would still pay 100 percent of tuition for students who go to two-year colleges, such as Central New Mexico Community College.

That will encourage students who need remedial courses to start out at community colleges, he said.

“We can put three or four freshmen through community college for every one we put in a four-year institution,” White said.

Those who attend the state’s three research universities — the University of New Mexico, New Mexico Tech and New Mexico State University — would receive $2,400 in aid per year. Tuition at UNM is a little more than $6,000 annually, so that would leave students there with a gap of about $3,600.

Students at any of the state’s other four-year institutions would get $1,400 a year.

UNM student regent Jake Wellman said the bill is not necessarily fair for students who want to attend a four-year school.

“We want to make sure that the state sends a message that student New Mexicans who are going to our four-year universities are valued. …” Wellman said. “We want to make sure there’s a fairness between the sectors. Our top priority is that students who are currently on the lottery, that we keep them in school.”

White said current freshmen and sophomores would be grandfathered in. Future students who are close to graduating would get a special award of $1,000, according to the bill.

He said he expects the fund to eventually have enough savings to award an additional $1,000 per student.

Wellman said students would rather explore a merit and financial-based approach. For example, the program could require a higher GPA for students attending certain schools based on their level of difficulty. And the amount in aid for which a student qualifies could be tied to family income, Wellman said.

Another provision of the bill would require students to take 15 credit hours per semester instead of 12, which is currently the minimum. That could decrease the number of semesters students spend in school, lessening the cost, White said.
— This article appeared on page C1 of the Albuquerque Journal