ENMU student scholarships could be at risk

The scholarships of more than a quarter of Eastern New Mexico University students could be at risk as a depleting state lottery scholarship fund is expected to run out of money in the next fiscal year.

Legislators are looking at changing the criteria of eligibility for these scholarships, possibly making them need or merit-based to ease the drain in the dwindling fund. Such changes would likely result in cutting the number of recipients.

The proposed changes concern ENMU's Patrice Caldwell, executive director of planning and analysis, because ENMU is the fourth largest institution in the state in lottery scholarship recipients.

"Many ENMU students rely on the New Mexico lottery scholarship to help finance their education," Caldwell said. "Over 900 full-time undergraduates received lottery scholarships in spring 2012. That's almost 37% of our undergraduates."

About 75,300 New Mexican students have received the scholarship since it began 16 years ago. The dip in the fund has been caused by lagging lottery sales.

Thirty percent of lottery ticket sales are allocated to the fund.

The scholarship pays 100 percent of tuition to a public New Mexico school for eight consecutive semesters, as long as students maintain a minimum 2.5 GPA.

Clovis Community College President Becky Rowley said the decision to make any change to the scholarship eligibility requirements are up in the air.

"Instead of just allowing every high school senior to be eligible for it, they're talking about using a need-based criteria," Rowley said. "That would obviously eliminate a lot of people now. They're a lot of people who don't qualify for Pell (grants) but it's still a struggle to pay for college."

Rowley said about 8 to 10 percent of CCC's student population is on the lottery scholarship, but it's not as common at two-year institutions.

She feels regardless of what decision legislators may make in the upcoming legislative session, consequences could be detrimental if they cut any amount of current recipients.

"There will be more people who will be forced to go part-time and they'll have a harder time completing," Rowley said. "When school becomes your job, it's a whole lot easier to get through."

Rowley added that there's been a lot of opposition to making the scholarship need-based, a conversation she says has been going on for months.

"These are all things they looked at as possibilities to deal with shortfall in the fund," Rowley said. "To prevent that from happening they have to make it need-based, merit-based or lower the amount of aid."

Caldwell says if the New Mexico legislature makes changes to this fund, they'll be breaking a promise they made to New Mexican students' higher education.

"When the New Mexico legislature inaugurated the Lottery scholarships in fall 1997, it made a commitment to students' higher education," Caldwell said. "To build the educated work force of tomorrow, we can't destroy our best path for students to get there. The Lottery scholarship is that path."

Rowley said the dwindling fund puts pressure on the state to make changes, but she hopes they use data to make a sound decision.

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