Editor’s Note: This article was part of an assignment for CJ 375. Its publication is part of a project to better connect the Daily Lobo with the University of New Mexico Communication and Journalism Department. Visit the Daily Lobo’s SoundCloud page for the brief podcast that is part of this story.
A college education could mean everything.
For some, the only way to have a college education is with the help of financial aid, and for many New Mexico residents, a large chunk of that financial aid has been slipping away.
After the recent legislative session, the stability of the Lottery Scholarship — which helps some 26,000 students statewide — has been threatened again.
To earn the Lottery Scholarship, students must maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA and take at least 15 new credit hours each semester.
New Mexico high school graduates receive the Bridge to Success Scholarship if they are enrolled in 15 credit hours and complete their first Fall semester with a minimum 2.5 GPA — this allows them to transition to the Lottery Scholarship their second semester of college.
When it comes to losing the Lottery Scholarship, “in the worst case scenario, that student might not be able to complete their degree. They might have to drop out of college. There are a lot of students in New Mexico who don’t have the money to go (to college), and the Lottery sort of picks up the slack. There are some students that if they didn’t have that funding, they wouldn’t be able to attend this school,” said Adrian Schmitt, the programs coordinator for the Associated Students of the University of New Mexico governmental affairs.
History of the Lottery Scholarship
The Lottery Scholarship has been a part of New Mexico’s public higher education since 1996.
Of its gross sales, the New Mexico Lottery currently sets aside 30 percent of its yearly net revenue for the Lottery Scholarship. This amounts to about $1,721.17 per semester.
If ticket sales are high, the Lottery Scholarship will receive more funding, but if sales are low, the scholarship will receive fewer funds.
There were 3,518 incoming freshmen during Fall 2013, and 2,315 of those students received the Lottery Scholarship in Spring 2014. Of those 2,315 students, 1,208 maintained the scholarship for the Spring 2017 semester, according to Heather Mechler, director of Institutional Analytics at UNM.
House Bill 147
On the last day of the New Mexico legislative session in Santa Fe this year, the Senate Finance Committee decided not to move forward with House Bill 147, which initially aimed to allot a $38 million flat rate to the Lottery Scholarship each year, regardless of the success of the lottery.
That allotment was later increased to $40 million.
“We were pretty against that bill at the beginning, and then as time moved on, we started promoting amendments in the bill that would actually make a better deal for students,” Schmitt said, adding that ASUNM advocated a lot for student financial aid at the Roundhouse.
Republican Rep. James E. Smith, who represents Bernalillo, Sandoval and Santa Fe counties, sponsored the bill.
When HB 147 did not pass, he said he was disappointed.
As a retired high school teacher, his “whole goal is to try to get more money into scholarships for students,” he said.
Student involvement in the legislature
Although his role as programs coordinator for ASUNM is generally more logistical, Schmitt said he helped on the organizational end for connecting ASUNM to the legislative session and attended most of the sessions, in an effort to defend the Lottery Scholarship.
ASUNM offers a student perspective, which is something legislators may not have from other constituents, said Schmitt, a philosophy major with a concentration in pre-law and political science.
“Legislators, sometimes they’re a little bit removed from UNM...We speak for the entire undergraduate student body. It’s important that they hear from us, so they know what students need and what students want,” he said.
Impact of funding on students
Changes to the scholarship also affect recipients like Tarah Gabrys, a sophomore majoring in business at UNM.
When Gabrys is not in class, she is working full-time — and when she is not working, she is doing homework. As a student who does not receive any other scholarships or financial aid, the Lottery Scholarship is crucial for her to attend and finish her bachelor’s degree, she said.
“If I lost the Lottery, I would have to finish school at (Central New Mexico Community College), because I wouldn’t be able to afford UNM without any student loans,” Gabrys said.
She said she wants lawmakers to know that most students benefiting from the Lottery Scholarship are going to school full-time and are often working. Meaning, they do not have time to work a second job.
“We are going to school to better our lives and our situations, so we can’t really afford to lose the Lottery, because most of us don’t have the proper funds to pay for school,” Gabrys said.
Schmitt said there are a lot of students in New Mexico who do not have the funding for attending a college or university.
When asked why the scholarship is important to him, he said, “Well, I’m a Lottery recipient. This is why I get to go to school. I think college is a really important opportunity for education and just for growing as a human being, and without the Lottery Scholarship I would be one of those people who wouldn’t be able to be here.”
What’s ahead for the Lottery Scholarship?
Smith will not be running again as a representative and therefore will not be part of any future decision making regarding the bill.
However, he said there may be an opportunity for others to work on providing more funds for the Lottery Scholarship in the upcoming 60-day session.
“We just ran out of time in the 30-day (session),” Smith said. “There were a lot of amendments on (HB 147), and we didn’t quite get to talk about the amendments in the Senate, so I think somebody will pick it up next session as well.”
Next year, there will be a new governor, which will mean either an attack on the Lottery Scholarship or financial benefits for students, Schmitt said.
In order to protect the scholarship, students and community members can contact state representatives for the Lottery Scholarship and tell them that they want and need the Lottery Scholarship to be supported, he said.
“(Legislators) want to hear from their constituents, and if you’re a part of that constituency, your voice is so important...Students are the future of New Mexico, and so we need students to be there in the legislature, in the minds of the legislators, to show them that this is something that we need to do for New Mexico,” Schmitt said.
Opening day for the next legislative session is Jan. 15, 2019.
Elizabeth Sanchez is the editor-in-chief at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Beth_A_Sanchez.
Alea White is a UNM student enrolled in CJ 375 and a guest reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at email@example.com or on Twitter @aleajeanelle.