Lottery & Opportunity Scholarships get $1B trust fund

By Brody Foster, Sara Atencio-Gonzales and Elizabeth Secor

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law a bill creating the Higher Education Trust Fund, with nearly $1 billion to support tuition-free college.

Only seven other states have similar higher education trust funds, according to the governor’s office, and New Mexico’s is the largest, followed by Tennessee at approximately $775 million and New Jersey and Alaska, both at about $400 million.

Interest earned on the $959 million investment will be used for financial aid programs including the Opportunity Scholarship and Lottery Scholarship.

More than 42,000 New Mexicans are currently getting the Opportunity scholarship, a record high for the program, established in 2022.

The Lottery Scholarship, created in 1996, was the country’s first tuition-free college program. It pays full tuition for about 10,000 students per year.

But in the past, economic downturns have cut the Lottery Scholarship so that it has paid only about 60 percent of the cost of tuition. This trust fund is designed to change that.

“By creating this fund, New Mexico is keeping our original promise of tuition-free college for residents and cementing our status as the nation’s leader for college equity and access” Gov. Lujan Grisham said after signing the bill March 5. “Our monumental investments from early childhood education to college and career are already making a life-changing difference for tens of thousands of New Mexicans and setting the example for every other state.” 

The scholarships improve graduation rates and support some of the state’s most vulnerable students.

“Current and future students depend on these scholarships to further their education, and the future of our state depends on having more highly educated residents entering the workforce and providing for their families,” said bill sponsor Sen. Pete Campos, D-Santa Rosa.

Other scholarship changes

The other big change for the lottery and opportunity scholarships next year is how many credits are required to obtain them.

SB 239 lowers the required credit hours to get and maintain the lottery scholarship from 15 to 12 credits for the fall and spring semesters. Students will still need to complete 30 credit hours per year, but now summer semester is included. 

Some students said they like the changes.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Danielle Genero, a senior at the University of New Mexico. “I think it’s going to ease the burden on a lot of full-time students like me who are trying to juggle classes, work, and an internship while worrying about maintaining our financial aid.”

Pay raises and more in the state budget

The state budget, HB 2 includes $1.3 billion in recurring funds for higher education, 3% increase in raises for all educators in the state.

The American Federation of Teachers of New Mexico lamented the decrease from a proposed 4%. 

 “The Senate Finance Committee really dealt public K-12 and Higher Education employees a blow when they cut our proposed raises from 4% to 3% in the final days of the session,” AFT New Mexico wrote in the press release. 

Other bills passed in relation to education funding include HB 5, which creates the workforce and apprenticeship trust fund, which will grant money annually to work apprenticeships and training.

 “This is a giant leap forward for a very important part of our workforce here in New Mexico,” Sen. Michael Padilla, D-Albuquerque, said during the senate floor session. 

These apprenticeships and training programs provide trade skills for a broad range of career fields while.

“You’re going to see approximately $13 million over the next three years that are going to be invested in these funds,” Padilla said. 

While funds went towards workforce and apprenticeships, the session also ended with more money going towards the University of New Mexico in this year’s capital outlay process. SB 275 provides about $36 for infrastructure projects from major renovations at the Health Sciences Cancer Center and Popejoy Hall, to smaller roof repairs at the golf course.