Lottery scholarship fund in crisis mode

Posted at: 08/19/2013 6:18 PM
By: Stuart Dyson, KOB Eyewitness News 4

In spite of an increase in lottery ticket sales, the New Mexico lottery scholarship fund is once again on its way to going broke.

There are just two politically realistic ways to fix the problem, and both of them are painful. One way or the other, there will almost certainly be fewer students getting the scholarships.

About 14,000 college students are getting them now, more if you count the two-year colleges. You qualify by graduating from a New Mexico high school and keeping a grade point average of at least 2.5 – that’s pretty much it. The scholarships cover tuition costs for public higher education.

The trouble is lottery ticket sales can’t keep up with the number of qualified students and the ever-increasing cost of tuition. The fund is on track to run out of money by next summer.

“How am I going to afford the rest of this education that I’ve been going to school for the past year, year and a half,” wondered Neil Therrell, who is hoping to enter UNM’s Anderson School of Business. “I’ll have to get two jobs.”

One option: raise the grade point average to, say, 2.75. Fewer students would qualify – more money to go around. Option two: focus on students from lower-income families. UNM Mechanical Engineering junior Jonathan Morgan has been thinking it over.

“New Mexico being on the lower end of income, maybe that’s the way to go,” Morgan said. “Maybe a family gross income of less than $100,000 or less than $85,000 would make you eligible. The family makes more; they’re able to help support the student more.”

New Mexico Voices for Children, a non-profit advocacy group for children and low income families, favors that second option. The group’s staff economist, Gerry Bradley, says the time is now.

“You know we can’t keep going the way we’re going,” said Bradley, who spent 27 years analyzing economic issues for state government. “We’ve let it go to a crisis point and now we have to make a decision. What road do we want to follow?”

In last winter’s legislative session, lawmakers considered a half a dozen bills aimed at fixing this mess. None of them passed. In the end they approved a $10 million bailout – a temporary band-aid for an amputated leg, as one lawmaker put it last March.