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Smaller grants proposed to save scholarship fund

SANTA FE – An effort to keep the state’s lottery scholarship fund afloat by reducing the annual stipends for New Mexico students attending four-year colleges and universities was given the go-ahead by the House Education Committee on Friday.

House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, would reduce annual scholarships for students at the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech to $2,400 per year.

For a UNM student, the reduced scholarship would mean paying another $3,600 per year out of pocket to cover tuition on the lottery scholarship, which now pays 100 percent of tuition.

The scholarship fund would continue to pay full tuition for students attending community colleges, where tuition rates are significantly lower.

The House Education Committee voted 10-1 to support the bill on Friday. The committee chair, Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, was the only vote against the bill.

“To me that just encourages students to go to community college instead of the four-year,” Stewart said of the tiered tuition payments for different types of colleges. “I don’t think we should do that, I think we should be more equitable.”

The bill is one of several proposals introduced in the Legislature to address the struggling lottery scholarship fund, which is projected to go into the red before the start of the college fall semester in August.

The fund is struggling because college tuition rates have steadily increased while lottery revenues remained flat. In 2012, for example, the lottery fund paid out more than $58 million in scholarships while receiving only $41 million in revenues.

The proposal to reduce scholarships for students at four-year colleges would reduce the annual scholarship fund payouts to around $38,000 per year by 2015, according to an analysis compiled by the Legislative Finance Committee.

White said the proposal to ask students attending four-year colleges to chip in to their tuition costs is intended to encourage students unsure about whether to attend college to enroll at a community college instead.

A scholarship there, he said, can cover about four students for the same cost as a single student attending UNM or NMSU.

The proposal would not change the scholarship’s minimum 2.5 GPA requirement.

The bill will now head to the House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal