Lottery scholarship program may be in danger

Posted at: 03/18/2013 6:54 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

It was a must-do job for the state legislature – and it didn’t get done.

Now thousands of New Mexico college students on lottery scholarships are wondering if they’ll be able to stay in school.

Analysts say the scholarship fund will be $5 million in the red by July, with more and more students becoming eligible and tuition costs going higher and higher. At the same time, lottery ticket sales are on a downward slide.

Less money coming in – more money going out.  You don’t have to be a math major to figure out it’s going belly-up.

“Honestly, the lottery is my savior, so it’s sort of like the anchor that’s holding me down to UNM right now,” said art major Adriana Ortiz. “If I were to lose the lottery and the lottery would run out I would really see myself in a state of panic.”

“We really rely on the scholarships to get us through college and to really open up our doorways in the future,” said UNM economics major Andre Huynh. “Without it, it would make college almost impossible for a lot of families, like especially mine.”

The lottery scholarships are good for full tuition at New Mexico’s public universities and community colleges and other public higher education institutions. Students must graduate from a New Mexico high school or get a GED here, and maintain a grade point average of 2.5.

In the 60 day legislative session that ended Saturday, lawmakers considered a proposal to raise that grade point average to 2.75, which would reduce the number of eligible students.  That bill died in committee. Other proposals included limits on family income for scholarship recipients, and diverting money from the state’s tobacco settlement income. Nothing passed.

“I have to pay for school on my own,” said chemical engineering student Yasamin Majeei.  “With the lottery it really helps me to focus more on my school. If I don’t have the lottery I probably have to have a fulltime job and get loans to pay for my school.”

“It would be real devastating,” said business student Scott McFall. “Taking out a loan has never really been an option for me. My family, we can’t really afford it. My brother, he’s in school as well. It would be real hard for us.”

For now, the state Higher Education Department seems to be willing to let the scholarships stagger on, awash in red ink – hoping that next year lawmakers can forge some kind of agreement.