US Rep. Charlie Gonzalez (D-Texas) said being a politician can often make one jaded or cynical, which is the reason behind his visit to the University.
On Wednesday, Gonzalez met with UNM students to learn more about student involvement in support of the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, which provides residency for certain undocumented immigrants.
But the conversation quickly transitioned to one about the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship, a state-funded scholarship that covers the cost of tuition for students who graduate from high school or receive their GED in New Mexico.
In March 2005, the New Mexico Legislature passed Senate Bill 582, which allows all students to receive in-state tuition and state-funded financial aid, regardless of immigration status. Because of the bill, immigrant students who meet Lottery Scholarship eligibility requirements can receive scholarship funding.
ASUNM President Caroline Muraida said a solvency issue with the scholarship is a cause for concern among members of the University community. She said discussions addressing concerns about the scholarship’s sustainability have included consideration of an increase in funding for the scholarship or raising the eligibility requirements.
“We’re faced with the issue of an unsustainable fund, so what UNM is doing right now is convening our own sort of body to review the issue,” she said. “I think more and more people are understanding that it’s both: How are we going to sustain the solvency of it while simultaneously addressing … maybe we do need to be a little bit more critical?”
Muraida said the University needs to provide a solution for the state Legislature to consider before presenting the issue to state Legislature in January. She said members of the University, including student regent Jake Wellman, met with the Office of Governmental Relations to come up with a solution for the scholarship.
“We need to address the issue as a community,” she said. “Before we take any sort of stance as far as the eligibility or the solvency … we need to study it and be more prepared to provide a solution not just say, ‘Legislators, please figure this out.’”
Gonzalez said education is an investment everyone should make. He said he feels that the sense of community has decreased recently and that people seem to be more concerned with their needs rather than helping others.
“We have a very strange mood, and I don’t know if it’s in your state, but things are being encouraged as sort of a fly in the face of us thinking as a community,” he said. “This is really a bad time in our nation. We always figured ‘I’m willing to, I don’t have anybody in the public school system, but I’m happy to invest because someone invested in me, right?’”
Gonzalez said his visit to UNM taught him that students are eager to support each other, which is important in ensuring that the help older generations had when they were young is paid back to the students of this generation and future generations.
“It’s a shot in the arm for me,” he said. “The door of opportunities is always open by someone else and you walk through it, now the question is ‘Will you hold the door open for the next person?’ And that is what I was hearing here, and … it’s good for me to hear that.”
Gonzalez said he likes New Mexico and that the state has a unique spirit.
“I’ve always liked New Mexico. I’ve always thought that at my age — I’m retiring from Congress — that I’d be able to retire in New Mexico,” he said. “New Mexico has always been really neat; it’s a state that’s kind of like ‘Leave us alone, let us do our own thing’ and has a real spirit about it.”