Tuition assistance from scholarships may be cut as much as 30 percent by fall 2017 for tens of thousands of New Mexico students. Proceeds from lotteries, including the January $1.6 billion Powerball, are not able to keep pace with higher education cost increases.
Ticket sales are down, college tuition costs are up, and state budgets are tight. As a result, lawmakers in eight states are considering cutting lottery-funded scholarship programs. New Mexico has one of the best lottery-based scholarships in the country, helping roughly 90 percent of all first-year, full-time students with full-tuition aid. According to an associate VP at the University of Mexico, students who normally qualify for such aid would have to pay nearly $1,700 out of pocket annually if the budget cut takes place, which will most likely necessitate taking out more in student loans. According to the Department of Education, only 60 percent of students would receive full-tuition benefits, instead of the current 90 percent.
According to Susan Montoya Bryan, one reason New Mexico ticket sales have started to decline is that millennials tend to not buy lottery tickets; most likely because they opt to pay for gas at the pump instead of going into the convenience store. In several attempts to close the gap, New Mexico lawmakers have tried measures such as a "one-time appropriation to prop up scholarships and shifting $19 million in liquor tax revenue," moving unclaimed prize money to the lottery tuition fund, raising eligibility requirements to a 2.5 GPA, and having applicants complete at least 15 credit hours per semester at a four-year school.
Bryan reports that annual revenue from lotto ticket sales is about $40 million and tuition costs for eligible students are expected to surpass $65 million. Federal data already indicated that New Mexico has the highest student loan default rate. New Mexico is not the only state facing this financial dilemma. Tennessee tried a short-term goal by setting up an endowment to fund scholarships through interest and earnings. Georgia was the first to introduce lottery-based scholarships, nearly two decades ago, but had to make changes in 2011 which resulted in a 25 percent decrease of qualifying students. Republican state Rep. Jason Harper recommends that scholarships are used only after all financial aid is exhausted.
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