On Monday, Jan. 30. the Graduate and Professional Student Association at the University of New Mexico will introduce a bill to make amendments to the Graduate Scholarship Act during the New Mexico 56th legislative session to the Senate Education Committee.
With this bill, GPSA hopes that they can provide a scholarship that could cover up to 100% of tuition for all graduate students throughout the state, with priority given to New Mexico residents, according to Isaiah Torres, the GPSA political director and Shaikh Ahmad, the GPSA president.
“The main focus of the bill is to encourage and incentivize New Mexico residents to pursue graduate and professional education in New Mexico while preserving highly qualified and skilled undergraduates in New Mexico,” Ahmad said. “At the same time, our hope is that in the future, this will diversify New Mexico's workforce and the economy and relieve the financial burden of graduate and professional education in our state.”
The bill is sponsored by Sen. Harold Pope, who had initially introduced this bill in 2022 during the 55th Legislative session.
“He's been a big supporter for UNM and for graduate students as well because he was a fellow graduate student as well. He's a senator on the west side of Albuquerque, so he really cares about his constituents here in Albuquerque,” Torres said.
The bill includes an appropriation of $5 million from the general fund to the higher education department for expenditure in the fiscal year 2024 to fund the Graduate Scholarship Act.
“(GPSA) wanted at first to have a set number, but because of the amount of graduate students and based on the money that we are requesting, we do not have that final number in place, but what we do know is that there is going to be some financial backing for the scholarship, for sure,” Torres said.
One major change the act seeks to establish is that an applicant will no longer need to be a United States citizen or have a permanent visa to apply. They only have to have earned a bachelor's degree from an eligible institution and maintained a grade point average of 3.0 or higher on a 4.0 scale or hold a paid position supporting faculty teaching or research activities.
However, there is still uncertainty for the international graduate student population, as they can still apply but might not make the cut, as priority is given to New Mexico residents.
“We wanted to establish something that could actually help New Mexico residents right away … We feel like this would have been the next step for students who benefit from up to a scholarship to easily go into a professional or master's degree-level program. So we want to start off with this, but our plans for the future and, hopefully, what I have planned for the future is to expand that pool of people so I could serve everybody,” Torres said.
Torres also said that international students should be involved in everything the GPSA is currently working on, but the current bill is only the beginning of something greater.
Ahmad, who’s an international student himself, explained that currently there are different tools that the state and/or universities use to support international students in particular. Overall, the bill’s purpose is to create a skilled workforce in the state of New Mexico from individuals who have obtained their bachelor's degree in New Mexico and are willing to stay and serve the state, according to Ahmad.
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The act also removes the requirement that applicants must agree to serve in an unpaid internship or assistantship for 10 hours per week during the academic year.
The bill states that the “scholarship award amounts shall not exceed 100% of tuition and fees for the graduate or professional program at the eligible institution.” Previously, the section requested that the scholarship award amounted to a total of $7,200 per year to be disbursed in equal installments over the period of an academic year.
“What we're trying to do is ensure, if your tuition increases throughout these universities, that we're able to match that dollar amount to ensure that (the scholarship is) still covering the same exact amount that we're covering originally,” Torres said.
The GPSA will have committee hearings on Monday, Jan. 30 during the second session of the 56th legislative session.
Annya Loya is the news editor at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @annyaloya