With the start of the 2017 year the ongoing legislative session will be reviewing many important issues in New Mexico. For many students, chief among them is the status of the Lottery Scholarship.
The Lottery Scholarship has provided a gateway to college for thousands of New Mexico students, ensuring there is no financial barrier for any student to pursue their dreams of attaining a degree.
But underwhelming sales by New Mexico Lottery in recent years have put the future of the scholarship in doubt.
“We are concerned that if portions of the Lottery Scholarship funding expires, this will deeply affect the enrollment of the University,” said ASUNM President Kyle Biederwolf. “Access to higher education will be severely jeopardized, which is why we will be fighting hard to renew the liquor excise tax so that the Lottery Scholarship will be able to be sustained.”
Terry Babbitt, associate vice president of enrollment management at UNM, said that in 1996 UNM had about 1,700 freshman. In 1997 — the first year of the scholarship’s existence — that number skyrocketed to 2,163.
“This 30 percent increase in one year was heavily impacted by lottery, but we grew faster than other institutions at the time,” Babbitt said. “Within 10 years we had over 3,000 in the freshman class. So the impact of the lottery at least contributed to doubling the freshman class over time.”
As for the current state of the scholarship, a portion of its funding comes from the Liquor Excise Tax.
If the tax is not renewed, Biederwolf said students will be paying significantly more in tuition. The scholarship currently covers 90 percent of said tuition, but if progress isn’t made on fixing the scholarship or increasing lottery sales, it could only cover about 60 percent.
“ASUNM will be a strong advocate for renewing this tax and ensuring that the scholarship is funded while the state works together for full solvency. Beyond this, we will be advocating for the implementation of a gap year or grace period within the policy of the scholarship,” Biederwolf said.
This is because, currently, students have to attend an in-state university immediately after high school to stay eligible for funding, he said.
“However, we believe that this could potentially place unneeded pressure on incoming freshman,” Biederwolf said. “We’re advocating for a year-long period that a student could voluntarily utilize if they wish to take time for themselves.”
This period of time could be spent working to save up for school or for personal needs, just so far as it isn’t utilized to attend an out-of-state university before returning to New Mexico.
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Wednesday night, ASUNM Senate passed an official resolution supporting both the renewal of the liquor excise tax and the gap year initiative, Biederwolf said.
As a result, ASUNM will be advocating for the renewal of the liquor excise tax, rather than focusing on utilizing unclaimed prize money as it did in the past.
“With the current political climate, we are not optimistic about the unclaimed prize money initiative. Therefore we are putting our energy into renewing the liquor excise tax,” he said.
ASUNM is fighting for the continued funding of the Lottery Scholarship, but Biederwolf said the voice of students is needed — through social media and contacting legislators — to get real change.
“If we can all stand together on this issue, we can tell our lawmakers how important the Lottery Scholarship is to the student body,” he said.
Acting President Chaouki Abdallah said UNM could not ask for much better outcomes in a state financial aid program than what the Legislative Lottery Scholarship has provided in its two decades of existence.
“We hope that current funding levels can be maintained in order to continue the progress we have made in closing the achievement gap and in increasing our four and five-year graduation rates,” Abdallah said.
Lawmakers’ support for students through the scholarship program has helped increase the number of graduates and increase UNM graduation rates while contributing to very low student debt, he said.
“In particular, this scholarship award benefits students with need and those from middle class backgrounds who receive little additional assistance,” Abdallah said. “Our data clearly shows that students with need who receive the lottery scholarship succeed at a much higher rate than those who do not.”
Nichole Harwood is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Nolidoli1.