State expands Lottery and Opportunity Scholarships

By: Skye McMillon

Just before the 30-day legislative session ended, state lawmakers voted to expand two popular college scholarships.

The measure (SB 239) lowers the number of credit hours required to qualify as “full-time,” extends Lottery Scholarship coverage to summer classes and expands access for students who take dual-credit courses while still in high school.

According to a legislative analysis, major changes to the Lottery Scholarship Act include:

  • The bill defines full-time as enrolled in 30 or more credits per year for four-year state educational institutions, and 24 credits or more for students enrolled at a community college.
  • The bill adds three summer semesters to the terms eligible for tuition scholarship funding, with summer enrollment required to be at least three credits and no more than nine credits; provides, that summer enrollment is not required for eligibility.
  • The bill removes all references to legacy students.
  • The bill removes credit-hour limits to the semester prior to graduation.

Major changes to the Opportunity Scholarship include:

  • Dual credit courses do not apply to the credit hour cap for the tuition scholarship.
  • Students with disabilities may have their definition of “full time” adjusted to as low as sixcredits during a semester and three during a summer term.

According to a recent program evaluation report, the two state-funded scholarships have contributed to an increase in college enrollment in New Mexico but the state needs to do more to improve students’ readiness for college and raise graduation rates.

For decades New Mexico has prioritized college access, and free tuition has been a signature issue for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham. This year the state is paying for more than half of all the tuition and fees revenue at state colleges and universities.

That investment has benefitted nearly 40,000 undergraduate students each year. And it has been a factor in UNM’s record-breaking freshman class.

From 2000 to 2022, only 63 percent of students who got the Lottery Scholarship graduated college with a degree or certificate.

But the data shows that students who got scholarship for more semesters are more likely to graduate.

Those requirements include having a GPA higher than 2.5 in your first semester, a graduate from a high school in New Mexico, being 18 or older, and being enrolled in a minimum of six credit hours.

The University of New Mexico welcomed its largest freshman class in history for the second time in a row, last fall, and New Mexico State University’s fully online campus added 2,100 new students, a 32.8 % increase.