Legislature needs multifaceted plan form lottery scholarships

Democratic state Rep. Sheryl Williams Stapleton plans to introduce a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would permit high school graduates to take a couple of years off before deciding whether to attend college without losing lottery scholarship eligibility.

While that's an interesting start in reforming a scholarship fund that is facing insolvency, it doesn't go far enough and misses an opportunity to boost the chances for recipients' success. Any attempts to reform the system should include eligibility and other cost-saving measures, such as requiring students to take remedial coursework at less-expensive community colleges.

Lagging lottery ticket sales along with tuition increases have left the 16-year-old program with a projected gap of more than $5 million by fiscal year 2014, unless changes are made. To qualify now, New Mexico graduates must attend one of 25 state colleges or universities the first regular semester after finishing high school.

The scholarship pays tuition for eight consecutive semesters, starting with the second semester. Recipients must have a minimum 2.5 GPA and must carry a full-time courseload.

GED recipients and those honorably discharged from military service also may qualify.

Stapleton's bill would expand eligibility to students who, for whatever reason, wait up to two years to go to college. She believes it could help save money for the fund because fewer graduates may apply.

Now, a student who is unsure about attending college has no choice but to apply or lose the chance for paid tuition.

The state Higher Education Department has not evaluated Stapleton's plan but says similar proposals have not shown a fiscal gain. But combining it with other reforms could make a difference.

This approach is superior to basing the scholarship on income. The lottery scholarship is an important part of the state's higher education program and should be accessible to the greatest possible number of interested and qualified students.

The Legislature has a big job this session protecting this fund, and it will take a multifaceted approach.

— Albuquerque Journal

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