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New Mexico’s lottery scholarships to be larger than expected

SANTA FE — The amount of assistance for New Mexico’s lottery scholarships will be larger than expected thanks to lower student enrollment, but it won’t cover 100 percent of tuition costs next year, the New Mexico Higher Education Department announced Thursday.

State Higher Education Secretary Barbara Damron told a legislative committee that she was setting the in-state tuition assistance for university and college students at around 90 percent of full tuition costs next school year. Damron said she set the percentage after state officials determined that lottery revenues would exceed projections.

Lawmakers had feared that the amount of assistance could drop to around 80 percent of costs because bickering legislators failed to bolster the state’s Legislative Lottery Scholarship program’s financial underpinnings.

But Damron said in addition to the rise in revenue and a drop in student enrollment, more money will be available since the new 15-credit hour requirement will reduce eligibility for the lottery scholarship.

“The letter will go out tomorrow,” Damron told members of the New Mexico Legislative Education Study Committee.

Lottery officials say annual demand tops $60 million.

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The department estimated tuition averages at around $2,500 a semester at the three research universities, about $1,500 for other four-year colleges and $600 at two-year community colleges.

The announcement comes after state officials warned last year that scholarship reductions were likely for all students because lottery proceeds haven’t kept pace with rising college tuition and demand for financial assistance.

Under the program, students at research universities — the University of New Mexico, New Mexico State University and New Mexico Tech — must take 15 credit hours a semester to qualify for a scholarship.

Solvency of the program has been an issue for nearly a decade.

Damron said she believed the decline in student enrollment was a result of the economy improving in New Mexico. “When the economy is doing poorly people go back to school,” she said.

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