LAS CRUCES, N.M. — The uncertainty of funding for the New Mexico's Lottery Scholarship has prompted New Mexico State University to commit to paying up to 60 percent of a qualifying student's tuition.
The university made the announcement Thursday afternoon after receiving the support of the university president, provost and board of regents.
"We want students to plan and prepare for the start of the Spring semester in January, and we hope this can alleviate some of the concern they have," said Bernadette Montoya, NMSU's Vice President for Students Affairs and Enrollment Management.
First awarded in 1996, the scholarship has paid more than $580 million in tuition to more than 82,000 students with profits from lottery sales.
To be eligible a student must graduate from a New Mexico high school, and maintain a 2.5 GPA while attending a college or university in the state.
After the second semester the scholarship pays 100 percent tuition.
"It relieved all this financial stress and when somebody goes to a classroom stress free they are able to learn a lot more," said Rafael Navarro, a former recipient of the scholarship.
The university said students will see the 60 percent payment on their accounts immediately.
If the state during their legislative session determines they can pay the full 100 percent or any other amount greater than 60 percent, NMSU will add that money to the accounts of qualifying students and possibly reimburse for over payment.
If the state decided on an amount less than 60 percent, NMSU would pay the additional percentage to reach the 60 percent mark.
"This is something that is a huge impact to families and we understand that," Montoya said.
The funding issues began after more students became eligible statewide and less money was coming in from the sale of lottery tickets.
"The revenue stream that is normally used for the lottery scholarship has gone down some and demand for the scholarship has gone up," said New Mexico Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez.
Sanchez was one of three senators who initially introduced the bill for the scholarship.
He said at the time the legislature was overwhelmingly in agreement tuition should be paid for all New Mexico students.
Now as funds have become scarce, there's been talks of possibly limiting who qualifies for the scholarship to help keep the program alive.
"I am against limiting access to higher education for any of our New Mexico graduates," Sanchez said.
He expects several bills restricting the scholarship to be introduced during the January 30-day legislative session.
The ultimate goal would be to fund the full amount for all students and keep them enrolled in school or prevent them from accumulating debt if student loans became a last resort.
"I'm just trying to avoid getting into that situation where you start out your new life with debt." said James Nance, a student going into his second semester.
Nance is one of the nearly 1200 students at NMSU that would qualify for the scholarship after maintaining a 2.5 GPA his first semester.
He has considered loans but would prefer the state fund the full amount.
The university is also relying heavily on a resolution that if not could greatly impact NMSU's budget.
Montoya said depending on who is eligible and the award amounts, the university could be paying anywhere between $4 million to $8 million.
In a worse case scenario where the state could not find any money, Montoya said they would have to consider trimming the budget that could result in hiring freezes and possibly cuts.
The university will have a strong presence with leaders and students attending the legislative session.
The legislature convenes January 21, 2014 in Santa Fe.