Gambling with the Lottery Success Scholarship’s Future

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A few years ago, the Associated Students of New Mexico successfully lobbied to prevent changes to the NM Lottery Success Scholarship program. The organization’s members were all elected representatives from student governments in New Mexico universities and colleges, and, therefore, spoke for just about every higher education student in the state.

They argued that the changes, which would have used lottery revenues to pay for expanded access to the scholarship, like need-based grants. If the changes were adopted, ASNM said, the scholarship would likely become insolvent.

While they were successful initially, ASNM was unable to prevent changes from being made to the scholarship last year. And, as a result, the Higher Education Department is projecting a deficit for the scholarship fund in 2011.

Lottery Success Scholarship

Now, I am not advocating we leave need-based funding out in the cold — these students are just as entitled to help from the state as those who receive the Lottery Success Scholarship. The College Affordability Act, introduced this session, would provide a revenue stream to fund need-based grants, and is the No. 1 priority for Secretary of Higher Education Beverlee McClure.

Still, the legislature is doing its best to destroy the Lottery Scholarship. Year after year, NM lawmakers pass an increase to the tuition credit. These credits, according to the Higher Education Department, are basically mandated increases to tuition. A 2 percent increase, proposed this year, means institutions will receive 2 percent less funding. They’re expected to make up the money by increasing tuition, while the money saved by the state goes into the general fund to pay for other programs (not necessarily education-related).

Of course, every increase in tuition means the Lottery Success Scholarship is paying more money per student. An increase of 2 percent may not seem like much money, but, when you take that increase over two semesters in a year, and consider that most of the scholarships are paying for tuition at UNM and NMSU (which are more expensive and more susceptible to high inflation), it starts to add up. Every increase in the tuition credit is a step toward bankruptcy for the Success Scholarship.

I don’t have anywhere else to go with this, because I think it’s unlikely the Legislature will roll back changes its already made to the scholarship, nor do I think they’ll decline the changes proposed this year (allowing tribal school students to receive the scholarship, etc). I will point out, however, that those changes will likely accelerate the demise of the success scholarship.

With so much attention being given to education in this state, and with the Lottery Success Scholarship becoming such a vital tool in imrpoving access to a quality, secondary education, it is disappointing to see it in this financial light.

For more, check this earlier New Mexican article.

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