Kelly McNeil was one of the thousands of students who relied on the Lottery Scholarship to finance her education.
“Basically all I had was that Lottery,” McNeil said.
This year, close to 26,000 students who benefit from the scholarship are receiving significantly less help. During the 2015-2016 school year, the scholarship dropped 10 percent, and this summer, , leaving recipients with 60 percent of the initial scholarship offerings.
McNeil was one of the many Lottery beneficiaries working part-time and going to school full-time. During her last semester, McNeil was consistently trying to work more hours, she said. At one point, she was working an additional part-time job too.
To keep the Lottery Scholarship, McNeil had to stay enrolled in 15 credit hours. Those courses, atop two jobs, was too much to handle.
“It got to the point where I didn’t even have enough money for myself,” she said. “School is stressful. Not being able to pay only adds on to that.”
Amid the rumors of scholarship cuts — and an ever-increasing workload in the classroom — McNeil decided to take a semester off to reassess, regroup and save money.
She was among the estimated two to 2.5 percent of students who didn’t re-enroll for the Fall 2017 semester last spring. Half of those students made their decision due to the shrinking Lottery Scholarship, according to estimates from University officials. The final enrollment report for Fall 2017 is expected to be published next week through the Office of Institutional Analytics.
The decreased coverage meant an estimated increase of $1,600 out-of-pocket cost for students, according to estimates. The scholarship cut came at the same time as a tuition change that included a three-credit upper division course premium of $54.
In a speech delivered to the University’s Board of Regents during the May annual budget summit, Noah Brooks, president of the Associated Students of UNM, gave push back to a tuition increase amid rumors of a scholarship decrease.
“Let’s make sure that any additional financial obligations to students are brought about and timed in a way that students don’t feel overburdened,” he said. “Sometimes $100 is what makes or breaks it for students at UNM.”
Regents, who met at the budget summit a few days before the diminished Lottery coverage was announced, debated the increase and settled on a figure lower than originally proposed.
In a campus-wide email last month, Brooks criticized state lawmakers for allowing the scholarship funding to decrease.
“(The) State Legislature failed to act responsibly and show that higher education is a priority in the state of New Mexico.”
The state has held onto its 49th rank for education quality since 2014, according to an “Education Week” magazine national study. New Mexico finished last in the college and career metric compiled in the study.
Higher education has also seen a dip, according to the state’s Higher Education Department data. In each of the past six years, enrollment at public postsecondary institutions has fallen, sliding nearly 14 percent through that period.
Many students facing changes — like McNeil — have adjusted their plans to reflect a lighter course load. McNeil plans on saving her money and re-enrolling part-time after her semester break.
McNeil said she, like many students in her position, wants to be at UNM — the cost is just too big a barrier.
Brendon Gray is a beat reporter for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers ASUNM. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @notgraybrendon.