Expansion of state’s lottery scholarships favored locally

By Tony Parra

Eastern New Mexico University students like the idea of expanding the lottery scholarship program, but would like to see an increase in the program revenue before the expansion takes place.

Gov. Bill Richardson wants to expand the lottery scholarship program so that more people will be able to use it. The bill is asking for the expansion to include students from tribal colleges and children of New Mexico military personnel stationed out of state, according to Beverlee McClure, secretary of higher education.

Currently high school students must enter college within six months of graduation, but the new program would also allow students to use the money up to two years after they’ve graduated.

“We’ll be able to provide more lottery scholarships and make them more accessible,” McClure said. “The more kids we can get into our colleges and become successful, the more successful we all are.”

According to a Santa Fe New Mexican report, 24 percent of lottery revenues go towards scholarships and last year that provided $32 million to fund the program.

“Personally I’m against it,” Amanda Bassett, floor leader of the ENMU Student Senate, said. Bassett went to Santa Fe, along with other ENMU senate students, to learn more about the issues facing New Mexico colleges and universities. “I’m not in favor of it because a budget revenue increase is not in place.”

Representatives of the think tank, “Think New Mexico,” said they would support spending at least 30 percent of the lottery’s revenue on scholarship, according to that same Jan. 18 report. Officials said the scholarship would go into a deficit in 2011 if the program continues, even without the expansion.

Bassett said she heard about this deficit while she was in Santa Fe and that bothered her.

“I like the idea of the lottery scholarship helping out military personnel,” Bassett said. “But there needs to be more revenue before the thought of even expanding it.”

McClure did say that legislators are working on ways to increase scholarship revenue. She said the expansion to include children of New Mexico military personnel stationed out of state would only be a minimal eligibility impact of about 77 students. She said there is no estimate for the number of students wanting to use the lottery scholarship, two years after high school graduation.

Sarah Steinhoff, an ENMU sophomore, said she likes the idea of expanding the scholarship program to include those who want to go to college beyond six months after their high school graduation.

“Not everyone is ready for college after they graduate from high school,” Steinhoff said. “It takes a level of maturity and not everybody has that right after high school.”

Steinhoff said she receives the lottery scholarship which covers the cost of tuition at ENMU each semester, about $1,000. Students on the lottery scholarship must be full-time students with a GPA of 2.5 or higher along with other requirements.

She said others struggle financially and want to save up money for a year after high school to go to college.
“I have friends with good GPAs that are not in college because they don’t have the money,” Steinhoff said.

Rep. Thomas Taylor, R-San Juan, is sponsoring House Bill 81 (the Increase in Scholarship Eligibility bill), which is currently in the House Education Committee, according to the New Mexico Legislature Web site.