Last week’s announcement that the Legislative Lottery Scholarship Program will cover full tuition costs for eligible college students for the first time since 2015 could not come at a better time.
Money is tight, and knowing tuition is covered makes it easier for students to continue their education. With more than 20 percent of undergraduates enrolled at in-state or tribal colleges and universities in 2019-20, the lottery scholarship makes an impact.
Now the scholarship can make the impact it was meant to — 100 percent of tuition paid, with students then responsible for books, fees and living expenses.
Established in 1996, lottery scholarships paid tuition for eligible students for nearly two decades. At its lowest point, the scholarships covered only about 60 percent to 65 percent of tuition.
Having those costs accounted for makes college truly affordable, and having students educated beyond high school means New Mexico has a better future. Education is the key to more than economics; it’s critical to creating a society engaged in keeping democracy running and supporting each other in a compassionate, civil manner.
As we have seen over the past 14 months, a lack of education can lead to embrace of conspiracy theories and disengagement from reality. Educated people are needed more than ever in New Mexico and the United States.
Too often, New Mexicans worry the best and brightest young people leave the state for college and don’t come home.
Paying tuition at in-state schools provides an incentive to remain closer to home, at least for undergraduate education. Students and their families then can save for graduate school and have the freedom that comes from graduating without debt. An education should be a passport to opportunity, not a path to burdensome debt for the next 30 years.
In fiscal year 2022, the scholarship will be funded at $63.5 million for fiscal year, a 30 percent increase over 2019-20. To be eligible, students must enroll in a state public or tribal college within 16 months of graduation, complete the federal student aid application, attend college full time and maintain a 2.5 GPA in the first semester.
Money for the scholarships will come from $37 million in projected lottery ticket sales, a $15.5 million appropriation from Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and funds carried over from last year.
As Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez told The New Mexican: “This is what is needed at the tail end of a pandemic.”
Now, the Legislature and other state leaders need to find ways to keep the scholarships fully funded. They also must help colleges and universities control rising tuition costs. As state Rep. Patricia Lundstrom wrote in a commentary published Sunday (“Students shouldn’t have to pick up UNM’s slack,” My View, June 6), universities have to stop relying on tuition hikes to cover costs. And that means recruiting, keeping and graduating students.
“As legislators, we hear virtually every day from employers in the state who need more college graduates. New Mexico’s universities must do more to reverse the downward trend in enrollment and graduates,” wrote Lundstrom, a Democrat from Gallup who chairs the Legislative Finance Committee and House Appropriations and Finance Committee.
With tuition costs no longer a concern, state leaders can turn their attention to the problem Lundstrom addresses — making sure students graduate with degree in hand. That’s how we provide the necessary return on millions of dollars spent investing in higher education.