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GPA hike could hurt students

New requirement could shut UNM's doors to high school students

Leaders of the College Enrichment Program are concerned UNM's changes to the Bridge to Success Scholarship's requirements will close doors to high school students planning on attending the University.

UNM has changed the scholarship's minimum grade point average requirement from 2.5 to 3.0.

In the past, the Bridge to Success Scholarship has been awarded to students who graduate from New Mexico high schools with 2.5 or higher grade point averages. It is a one semester award of $850 to assist students until they are eligible for the state's Lottery to Success Scholarship, which goes into effect during students' second semester if they maintain a 2.5 or higher grade point average.

"We just didn't have the amount of money needed to pay for all the scholarships for eligible incoming students," said Ron Martinez, UNM's director of financial aid.

Martinez said the Enrollment Management Committee recommended the change to the Executive Cabinet.

"The committee considered reducing the scholarship amount and trying to award the same number of students as we always have, but the committee felt that it was not a good way to go," he said. "The amount of the scholarship would be reduced by about $500, but it will be increased from $850 to $1,000, which would still make it a good recruitment device."

Arturo Sierra, director of the College Enrichment Program, thinks the changes are unfair to incoming students and will hurt the University.

"The majority of students who fell below the 3.0 grade point average are minority students who come from moderate backgrounds," he said. "They are probably the first generation from their families to go to college, and they just can't make up the $850 difference UNM has taken away."

Sierra said students should not be punished because UNM has not handled its scholarship funding appropriately.

"What are we supposed to tell students finishing high school this year with 2.9 grade point averages who have been counting on the lottery scholarship?" he said. "`Sorry, we didn't calculate correctly and don't have enough money for you?' What do you tell the students from Rio Grande, Mora, Mesa Vista and a lot of other schools? What am I supposed to tell them?"

Sierra said he would have accepted the change if UNM had decided on it three years ago, so high school students' expectations would not be unfairly raised.

Both Sierra and Martinez are concerned about one of two lottery scholarship bills on Gov. Gary Johnson's desk introduced by Rep. Luciano "Lucky" Varela, D-Santa Fe. The bill funds the scholarship with all available lottery revenue, but it stipulates the scholarship should only be used by schools to pay students' tuition as a last resort.

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"If the Varela bill is passed, it would significantly inhibit our ability to do leveraging with lottery funding we have left over," Martinez said. "We would still have commitments for certain scholarships, but the bridge scholarship would probably go away. It's still a little too soon to say for sure."

Martinez said UNM accepts lottery scholarships for all students eligible for the program.

"The lottery scholarship primarily funds the UNM Scholars Award," he said. "Right now we're using both lottery funds and University funds to pay for that scholarship, but the Varela bill would prevent us from using that. We would have to do an analysis on the impact, but we know we wouldn't have enough for the Bridge and UNM scholarships if the Varela bill is enacted."

Sierra said he thinks it is unfortunate the state is considering limiting the lottery scholarship program. He said the lottery scholarship is a strong anecdote for the state's poverty.

"At the College Enrichment Program and El Centro de la Raza, we have proven that poorer students can succeed when given the opportunity to do so," he said. "The changes to the scholarship program would take away those opportunities."

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