It would be nice if everyone got a shot at college. However, not everyone is college material. Some of us wander for a few years before gaining the maturity and focus to tackle such a learning environment. Others are good with their hands and understand crafts and trades better than post-World War II history or solving an algebraic equation.
The state’s Lottery Success Scholarship is at a crossroads where taking one turn will mean robbing other state funds to maintain the Scholarship fund or changing the requirements to thin out those who aren’t truly ready for college.
The fund has struggled the past few years to meet the demand of graduating high schoolers and those already progressing through college. The state has patched the fund robbing the Tobacco Permanent Fund and redirecting a portion of the alcohol excise tax to keep the Scholarship fund solvent. Both of those “fixes” are wrong.
The Tobacco Permanent Fund was created after attorneys general from many states sued tobacco companies in 1997 over the many chemicals in cigarettes and the knowledge of what those chemicals do to smokers. A huge settlement was reached. Big Tobacco threw hundreds of millions of dollars at the states that sued.
The money was supposed to be used to educate youth, prop up medical expenses created by smoking and create campaigns to curtail smoking. Yeah, right. That money has been funneled everywhere, including the Scholarship fund.
Alcohol excise tax is supposed to be used about the same way. That rarely happens also.
To keep the Scholarship fund solvent either some students must be turned away, or the state will have to wave a magic wand over it and make it grow about $25 million just to meet current demand.
The lottery commission has tried several parlor tricks over the past few years, mostly in an effort to boost their revenue, not support the Scholarship fund. Doubling the price of a $1 ticket helps a little but the marketing promised didn’t create the boost needed to maintain the Scholarship fund.
The fund now covers about 90 percent of the tuition for 30,700 students. That was when there was $61 million in the fund, about $20 million of which came from sources outside lottery ticket sales. With this year’s continued stagnant economy and budget woes, comes lower fund projections.
So what to do?
The first thing we need to do is admit the fund does not meet all the needs of all the students who want to attend college. The Scholarship fund is on track to meet about 65 percent of tuition costs if it is not supplemented by raiding other funds meant to address other issues. We can just say we’re going to pay for 65 percent of your college and leave it at that.
It could be time to get real about who qualifies and who needs the scholarship. Raising the requirement from a 2.5 grade point average to at least 2.75 isn’t outrageous. Serious college students are not riding on a C average. They’re working much harder and getting better grades.
It may also be time to determine who doesn’t need the scholarship. We all know students with two parents working at well-paying jobs who receive the scholarship. If we want to leave the Scholarship fund as one for all New Mexican students, that’s fine, we’ll keep paying tuition for students who don’t need the help.
What we must do is get honest about the Scholarship fund. It can’t continue operating the way it is now. Legislators need to make some tough decisions and just like the rest of the budget problems, prospective college students will have to take a hit like all the other departments and funds that are getting beat up right now at the Round house.
A free college education for all is a great idea, however, no one has come up with a way to pay for it and the Lottery Scholarship fund is no longer the golden goose it once was.