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State scholarships set to receive substantial funding

The New Mexico state legislature adjourned its regular session on March 20, 2021, and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has approved legislation that aims to provide funding for students of New Mexico seeking higher education.

New Mexico is set to receive $1.6 billion in federal aid, and an estimated $160 million of that will go toward public universities and tribal colleges in New Mexico according to an April 9 press release. Half of those funds are set to go directly to students. The New Mexico Higher Education Department will also receive an additional $40.4 million from the state.

New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signs legislation on Monday, April 5, 2021. (Image courtesy of the Office of the Governor)

Senate Bill 135 establishes the Opportunity Scholarship Act, a piece of legislature Gov. Lujan Grisham described as a top administrative priority, allocating $18 million to the fund.

Currently, Opportunity Scholarships are only available to New Mexico students enrolled in a two-year program. The bill would allow students attending four-year universities to qualify for the Opportunity Scholarship as well. The changes will take effect in the 2022 school year.  “Even before the pandemic, we knew that improving access to college and career training was one of the best ways to ensure positive transformation in our communities and economic growth for New Mexico,” Gov. Lujan Grisham stated in the press release. “I am grateful for the notable public support received for the Opportunity Scholarship, and the chance to ensure that more New Mexicans from all pathways can pursue college and careers right here at home.”

“Even before the pandemic, we knew that improving access to college and career training was one of the best ways to ensure positive transformation in our communities and economic growth for New Mexico.”

The governor also passed Senate Bill 234, which would allow homeschooled students to qualify for the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship without needing to take the GED. The Associated Students of New Mexico State University president Mathew Madrid showed support for improvements to the lottery scholarship after co-signing an op-ed published in the Albuquerque Journal.

Madrid, along with Associated Students of the University of New Mexico President Mia Amin and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology student body president Quincy Bradfield, urged legislators to increase funding for the lottery scholarship program.

The New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship has traditionally been funded by lottery-ticket sales. The program initially covered all of a student’s tuition, but after a decrease in ticket sales coverage was reduced to 60%. Madrid and his colleagues hope increasing funding could raise the amount of aid students can get.

New Mexico State University’s Director of Financial Aid, Vandeen Mckenzie, explained that the Opportunity Scholarship covers tuition and fees that might not be paid by other state grants.

“It doesn’t take federal aid into account when it’s covering the difference; it’s just state aid,” Mckenzie said.

Even though the Opportunity Scholarship does not acknowledge federal aid, students receiving the scholarships can still receive the Pell grant without it affecting the amount they get.

“I always tell students to maximize anything they are receiving. So definitely complete the FAFSA,” Mckenzie said.

Mckenzie also said she always urges students to apply for financial aid even if they think they don’t qualify.

“You never know, because let’s say they are not eligible for a Pell grant, but they may have been eligible for a scholarship that required them to have a FAFSA on file,” Mckenzie said. 

This includes the Opportunity Scholarship which requires students to complete the FAFSA to qualify.

“By not filling it out they have now taken themselves out of the running for that particular scholarship,” she added.

Luckily, students do not have to apply for the New Mexico Lottery Scholarship. Both scholarships simply require students to be enrolled full time and maintain a 2.5 GPA.

Additionally, the College Affordability Endowment, which offers funding to students who don’t qualify for other forms of state grants, will receive $15 million. The Grow Your Own Teachers Scholarship will also receive $500,000 to support educational assistants, so they can become teachers.

Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez indicated in the press release that education is one of the keys to future economic security in the state. “Higher education is key to reinvigorating New Mexico’s economy and the success of students and their families. Thanks to the hard work of our agency, our partners, and Gov. Lujan Grisham in addition to the support of legislators, we have been able to achieve many positive gains that will support student success and the growth of our state for years to come,” Rodriguez said.

Unfortunately, these scholarships are only available to New Mexico residents, and not the many out-of-state residents who go to NMSU. With the school being located roughly 20 miles away from the Texas border, many Texas residents enroll and even qualify for in-state tuition.

Mckenzie explained she feels it is unfortunate these students can’t take advantage of the new funding.

“They are so close. It’s just down the road, yet they don’t qualify,” Mckenzie said.

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