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Reduced scholarships in the cards

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Beginning next year, all lottery scholarship students at New Mexico’s public colleges and universities will probably see their scholarship awards reduced.

Moreover, tuition payments of 100 percent are more than likely a thing of the past, officials say.

Secretary Jose Garcia of the state’s Higher Education Department wrote to college presidents recently to clear up “confusion regarding the exact nature of the changes to the lottery scholarship.” He said two bills from this year’s legislative session would impact the scholarship.

SB 347 dictates that future scholarship awards depend on how much money is available from the scholarship fund, as determined by the HED, Garcia said.

Based on projected enrollments, the HED will determine that amount and figure out a uniform percentage of the average in-state tuition.

Terry Babbitt, associate vice president for enrollment management at the University of New Mexico, said any reductions in scholarship awards would be imposed equally among all students.

Another bill, SB 313, gave an $11 million shot in the arm to the scholarship fund from the Student Financial Aid Special Program Fund and another $2.9 million as a general fund appropriation. The bill also allocated $11.5 million from the general fund for FY15.

Gov. Susana Martinez, using her line-item veto, kept a previous transfer to the scholarship, estimated at $5 million, from the Tobacco Settlement Fund, Garcia said.

SB 347 further bolstered the scholarship fund with 39 percent of net receipts from the liquor excise tax in FY16 and FY17, estimated at $19 million each year.

Garcia said the legislation includes important changes to the scholarship program:

⋄  Students are now required to complete courses rather than simply enroll in them.

⋄  To retain eligibility, students at four-year institutions must complete at least 15 credit hours per semester. An exception is made for “legacy” students who have received the lottery scholarship for three or more consecutive semesters by June 30. They must complete the old standard of 12 credit hours per semester.

⋄  The same 12 hours rule applies to students at two-year institutions.

⋄  Legacy students can receive the scholarship for eight semesters, providing they maintain their eligibility. Non-legacy students will be eligible for lottery scholarship awards for seven semesters only.

Babbitt previously told the Journal that, this fall, scholarship recipients can expect just under 90 percent of their tuition to be paid.

The projections are in line with a Legislative Finance Committee cost analysis that estimated 86 percent of tuition will be covered in the fall, 87 percent next year and 90.5 percent in 2017.

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