Vote 4 NM: The challenges of keeping the lottery scholarship afloat
September 10, 2018 09:30 PM
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Paying for college with a lottery scholarship is like watching the winning numbers get pulled for a big lottery jackpot.
It seemed like the state finally found the winning ticket in 1996 when state lawmakers approved the lottery scholarship.
For every lottery ticket sale, 30 percent goes into the scholarship fund.
In the early years, the fund covered 100 percent of tuition for New Mexico students going to in-state public colleges or universities.
But recently the scholarship value started to dip. Tuition costs went up and lottery sales in our state went down.
Last year, the scholarship covered 60 percent of average tuition.
UNM freshman Alyssa Olsen almost didn't enroll because of the change.
"For me when it started going down, it was a big decision, it actually pushed me to look at other schools than just look here," Olsen said.
State lawmakers have had to get creative over the years to get more money in the fund.
Last year, the New Mexico legislature passed Senate Bill 140 and the governor signed it into law.
Thirty percent of lottery sales still go to the scholarship fund, but the law changed the scholarship award to a set amount.
This year it covers about $500 more than last year.
Last year, Becca Myers, the president of the Associated Students of UNM, and other college students went to the Roundhouse and called for lawmakers to keep the scholarship a priority.
They listened and added $4 million from outside the lottery scholarship fund.
"I think that investing in education is always worth it, so I think that anyway that we can talk about creative ways to secure funding for students is important and that students value their lottery scholarship. I mean 12,000 students here at the University of New Mexico receive the lottery scholarship and 26,000 students in the entire state so it's really critical to New Mexico that we have this scholarship," said Myers.
But is it sustainable? And will our new governor have any ideas about putting the program on a different track to keep it stable?
New Mexico Lottery spokeswoman Wendy Ahlm believes getting rid of that 30 percent mandate would help boost ticket sales.
She said they could put more money into prizes, encouraging people to play more often. Ahlm points to Oklahoma.
"Their legislature lifted their mandate and they're returning $10 million extra to their scholarship fund because they're able to put more money into their prizes," Ahlm said.
But there is a guaranteed, safe bet in all this? The new governor and lawmakers will have to do something to make the lottery scholarship system work.
"Our scratcher sales remain completely flat, there was only a couple hundred thousand dollars difference, from year over year, and we anticipate perhaps even a decline in the scratcher product. Because players just aren't that excited," said Ahlm.
Knowing the future plans for our lottery scholarship is kind of like playing a scratch off.
A lot still has to be revealed.
Myers says if our new governor and lawmakers find new ways to put more money behind students, they can't lose.
"It's important that the students are our priority and those voices need to be heard. Our job is to empower them," Myers said.
Updated: September 10, 2018 09:30 PM
Created: September 10, 2018 12:35 PM
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