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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Undocumented insight into lottery scholarship

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By Ardee Napolitano / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM student Vanely Salinas studies in the lobby of UNM’s El Centro de la Raza on Thursday. Salinas, an undocumented student who receives the Legislative Lottery Scholarship, said the scholarship is an integral financial source for minority students like her.

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Student Vanely Salinas said she never had the opportunity to ask her mother for help with her homework. Salinas, an undocumented student who has plans on being the first in her family to graduate from college, said her mother stopped attending school after second grade.

“A lot of kids have their parents to help them do their homework, but a lot of kids like me don’t,” she said. “Our family’s not educated. They have sacrificed a lot for me to get educated. If it wasn’t for the Lottery Scholarship, I wouldn’t be here.”

Salinas is a mentor at Atrisco Heritage Academy High School, through the Engaging Latino Communities for Education (ENLACE) New Mexico program. She said she works at ENLACE to encourage students throughout the state to become interested in higher education.

Salinas gave the Daily Lobo permission to publish her immigration status. She said she is concerned about the recent rise in required credit hours for students to be eligible for the Lottery Scholarship.

“When I was in high school, I was warned against taking five classes because it would jeopardize my academic success,” she said. “You get the hang of it, and I’ve taken five classes for the longest time, but that first semester is the hardest. It really tests you. To right away throw them in the deep end will leave a lot of students overwhelmed.”

On Feb. 20, the state Legislature passed Senate Bill 347, which increased the credit hour requirement of the Legislative Lottery Scholarship at four-year institutions from 12 to 15 credit hours.

In a study published by New Mexico State University before Senate Bill 347 was passed, 69 percent of eligible minority students in the state would be negatively affected by an increase in credit hours.

Senior program manager of El Centro de la Raza Jorge Garcia said that although he understands the purpose for raising the credit hour requirement, the student feedback he’s heard suggests more problems than solutions. Garcia said that many students, minority or otherwise, were not represented by the passed bill.

“There was an issue from within the student government here at UNM that they were speaking on behalf of the students, but then there was this overwhelming response that the students didn’t feel they were speaking in their behalf when it came to this issue,” he said.

Garcia said he disagreed with President Frank’s recent State of the University address Friday, saying that Frank’s speech focused on financial goals as opposed to goals for students.

“It seems to me that we’re meeting the needs of the University and not the other way around,” he said. “If education is a way to equalize inequalities, we’re making it harder for some students coming from low-income communities to have the same opportunities.”

Although Salinas is concerned about the raise in required credit hours, she said she is still working to encourage the students she mentors to pursue a college education through the help of the Lottery Scholarship. She said she is trying to raise awareness of the fact that undocumented students can apply for the scholarship.

“For me, talking about being undocumented is not a big deal,” she said. “For a lot of my students, they’re really shy about it, saying ‘I don’t know if I should be saying anything.’ It’s just a matter of getting their trust, to say ‘Yeah, I am undocumented, and I want to go to school.’”

Senate Bill 582, which was passed in 2005, states that “public post-secondary educational institutions shall not deny admissions based on immigration status,” and that “all qualified residents of New Mexico are eligible for in-state tuition as well as state-funded financial aid, regardless of immigration status.”

Salinas plans on graduating next fall with a degree in media arts.

She said that she hopes to continue to reach out and tell her story through film.

“I want to tell our stories in a way that everyone can understand,” she said. “Everyone can sit down and watch a movie, regardless of what their ethnicity is. Not everyone is going to pick up a Chicano studies book.”