ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Think of it as a belated Christmas present.
The University of New Mexico is covering the difference between lottery scholarship payments and tuition for more than half of its students who received the scholarship for the spring semester, which just got underway.
That’s about $56 per eligible student or $282,218.37 in total.
The New Mexico Higher Education Department notified UNM last month that the lottery scholarship would only cover about 98 percent of the amount the university charges for 15 credit hours. UNM decided to pay the difference for students with financial need and those who also received merit scholarships.
Changes to the lottery scholarship program — which traditionally covered 100 percent of tuition at all state-funded universities and colleges — were made last year when tuition increases and demand for the financial assistance had outgrown revenue from the lottery.
Last month, just before the winter break, HED Secretary Jose Garcia wrote to UNM President Bob Frank advising him that the lottery scholarship only would cover up to $2,447.12 per UNM student for the spring semester.
That’s when UNM decided to step in and cover the scholarship reduction — for the majority of students.
Terry Babbitt, associate vice president for enrollment management, said Friday that 5,019 students received the $56.23 supplement, while 4,597 did not. Lottery students without merit awards or financial need were told that they would have to pay the difference.
The Office of Student Financial Aid passed on the news in letters to the student body.
In its letter to lottery students with merit awards, the university said: “We hope you are enjoying your winter break! As you review your awards for the upcoming semester, please note that the Legislative Lottery Scholarship has been reduced … . However, your merit-based UNM scholarship has been increased to cover this reduction.”
Meanwhile, lottery students without merit awards but with unmet financial needs were advised: “We hope you are enjoying your winter break! … You have been awarded a UNM supplemental scholarship to cover (the lottery) reduction.”
Last year, the Legislature defined maximum lottery award amounts as 100 percent of the tuition average for various categories of institutions, or, if tuition is lower than the average, the full tuition level of that particular institution.
The averages for the 2014-2015 academic year are:
— Research institutions: UNM, New Mexico State University, New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology — $2,575.92.
— Comprehensive universities: New Mexico Highlands University, Eastern New Mexico, Western New Mexico, Northern New Mexico — $1,570.86.
— Community colleges: $643.41.