Monday marked UNM’s annual excursion to the New Mexico Capital as part of its recognition and celebration of the state’s flagship university, while also advocating for issues pertinent to the University community.
This year, like many years in the past, was focused on issues concerning the maintenance of the Lottery Scholarship. In particular, student representatives pushed for the renewal of the Liquor Excise tax, which has funded 30 percent of the current Lottery Scholarship.
According to Nathan Cowan, executive director of ASUNM Governmental Affairs, this tax is set to expire this year.
Cowan said, unless renewed, that’s 30 percent of tuition that students will have to cover on their own, which amounts to about $2,500 extra “just being tagged onto our Bursar’s.”
“That’s enough to get you kicked out of school if you don’t pay it off in time,” he said. “It’s enough money to discourage a freshman from coming to UNM because it’s going to cost too much to handle. So we need that renewed immediately.”
Currently, House Bill 237 is proposing to extend this tax until the year 2020.
Students also sought to promote consideration of a gap year. This would allow incoming students to take a year off after high school before starting at UNM, while still maintaining their eligibility for the Lottery Scholarship.
“Right now you have three months to go from high school gradation to starting your freshman year at a New Mexico institution,” Cowan said. “We think that’s forcing kids into college who aren’t prepared for it. So we want to allow kids to take that year off, go find themselves, work if they need to save up.”
Aside from these two central points advocated for by students, UNM Day also saw the introduction of House Bill 194 into committee for consideration.
Proposed by New Mexico Rep. Debra Sarinana (D), this bill would make the Lottery Scholarship needs-based for students. This is contrary to the current structure of the scholarship, which gives students an incentive to maintain a 2.5 GPA.
Under the proposed change by Sarinana, to qualify for the scholarship, a student’s total household income would have to be less than $75,000 a year. According to Cowan, this would essentially block access to 60 percent of students seeking coverage from the scholarship.
Cowan and a few other student volunteers were able to sit in on this committee, and were given the opportunity to voice their concerns about this proposed bill.
“We’re viewing this as just a complete infringement upon the rights of UNM students to receive this funding. It’s against UNM’s policy, which is to fight for legislation that’s equitable for all students,” he said. “My office and ASUNM reflect that and we conveyed that policy in committee.”
New Mexico Rep. Kelly Fajardo (R) also expressed her concern about this bill.
“The Lottery Scholarship is designed for kids to go to school regardless of economic boundaries or situations,” she said. “So when you take an education and you but a barrier on it — like you have to meet certain financial needs — then it basically takes the education away from the middle class. I think education should be available to anybody, regardless of income."
The bill was tabled until Friday, at which point Cowan said there would be a UNM presence at the Roundhouse to continue voicing the concerns of students.
He said that though the bill may pass in this particular committee, if brought to the House, they would continue to oppose it.
“We want enough of a presence there to let legislators know that we’ll fight it even harder. But from who we talk to, it doesn’t seem like anyone really supports this bill,” he said.
ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf was also in attendance, adding his voice to the representation of students in Santa Fe.
“I think it’s important that we do this every year because lawmakers in the state are bombarded by lobbyists and different people always bringing issues to their face,” he said. “The good thing about it is that we’re fresh faces to these lawmakers. They love hearing and interacting with students because that’s not what they get every day.”
Gabriela Garcia-Huff is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @thegreen_gablin.