David Maestas, NMSU's student president, wonders why legislators and the administration have watched the lottery scholarship fund drift toward insolvency for three years without doing anything.
Good question, David.
As tuition and demand rose and lottery sales ebbed, policy makers kicked the question around, introduced bills and even formed a task force. It's all gone nowhere.
Students have come up with their own solution, which deserves a serious hearing.
David Maestas was among student leaders around the state who developed a proposal. They would raise the minimum grade point average from 2.5 to 2.75, reduce the number of consecutive semesters for scholarship use from eight to seven (three for students at two-year colleges), and make the grant a flat sum and not a promise to pay tuition, whatever that tuition might be.
In other words, the grants would rise and fall with the lottery fund and be dependent only on the lottery fund and not on taxpayers. It's a critical distinction and one lawmakers wrestled unsuccessfully.
One argument (usually Republican) is that the lottery should be the sole source of funding. That's the way it was set up, former Gov. Gary Johnson reminds us. Another argument (usually Democrat) is that the always strained budget should be squeezed to provide a few more dollars. A third is that the tobacco settlement fund could provide money, either short term or long term. The latter became a successful bill, but courts have held up the transfer.
The governor and some legislators want to find money for this year only to keep promises to students through next spring.
When it was time for my son to go to college, there was no lottery scholarship. I turned over to him a chunk of money and said, "Here's what I have to help you out. When it's gone, there is no more." He managed his money, lived at home, worked part time, and made it work.
I question subsidizing the lottery fund on two counts: First, the whole reason for creating the state lottery was to fund scholarships. Second, come budget time, finding more money is an iffy proposition because it would compete with so many other needs.
The proposed GPA requirement also makes sense, although some legislators object. A lot of students don't graduate because they're not ready for college-level work, or they shouldn't be there in the first place. College isn't everybody's solution - something I can say because many in my family have done better in the trades than I have with my degree.
Student leaders have demonstrated that they're not only willing to be realistic but they're confident they can manage.
So what have their elders come up with?
In the 2013 session there were five bills to make the scholarships needs-based and raise the minimum GPA to 2.7; require minimum scores on ACTs and SATs and raise the GPA to 2.75; tap the tobacco settlement for 25 percent of funding; pay tuition for students in two-year schools but reduce funding to students of four-year schools; and give high school graduates an extra two years to enroll in college.
State Higher Education Secretary José Garcia has said it's the Legislature's problem, which is a peculiar position. He has no thoughts, no recommendations? He reminds them he has the authority to reduce the scholarship, but his department asked for $11 million to cover scholarships for an estimated 18,500 students through the spring semester.
The Legislative Finance Committee staff recently proposed a plan very similar to the student plan except for increasing required credit hours per semester to 15. The students held the line at 12.
These student problem solvers have shown initiative and produced a practical, doable plan. They deserve our support.