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Lottery scholarship fix passes

SANTA FE — A proposal to keep the state’s lottery scholarship fund solvent by asking students who qualify for the tuition scholarship at the state’s research universities to pay as much as $3,600 per year out of pocket passed the House on Friday.

House members voted 46-17 in support of House Bill 309, sending the bill to the Senate.

The bill is intended to help the struggling lottery scholarship fund, which risks running out of money as college tuition rates have steadily increased while lottery revenues into the fund were flat. In 2012, for example, the lottery fund paid out more than $58 million in scholarships while receiving only $41 million in revenues.

House Bill 309, sponsored by Rep. James White, R-Albuquerque, would cut annual scholarship payouts by about $20 million by 2015. The bill would make the cuts by limiting the amount of tuition paid to the state’s four-year colleges.

Under the bill, a University of New Mexico student on the scholarship would receive $2,400 per year from the scholarship fund that now pays UNM’s full $6,000-a-year tuition. Students would have to pay the difference out of pocket or through student loans.

Students attending community colleges, where tuition is significantly lower, would continue to receive full tuition scholarships. White said the proposal is intended to help the state get more “bang for the buck” by encouraging students to attend lower-cost community colleges.

“We can put three, maybe four, students through a community college versus one through a research institution,” White said.

White said his bill would provide additional scholarship money to students attending four-year colleges if the fund has any surplus after the first round of scholarships is paid. That second round could provide another $1,000 a year for students at four-year colleges, he said.

Rep. Mimi Stewart, D-Albuquerque, said the bill would give an unfair disadvantage to students who want to attend a four-year college.

“I believe what the bill does is it discourages New Mexico students from attending four-year universities,” she said.

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.
— This article appeared on page A4 of the Albuquerque Journal