NM House backs extending lottery scholarship to tribal colleges

Noel Lyn Smith
Farmington Daily Times
Jean-Marie Holgate works on her Santa Fe rolls presentation on Feb. 25, 2015 at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

GALLUP — The New Mexico House of Representative approved a measure that would broaden the lottery scholarship to students attending tribal colleges in the state.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Eliseo Alcon, D-Cibola and McKinley, would provide $1,020 each semester to qualified students attending a tribal college that is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

Alcon was pleased the House voted 65-0 in favor on Friday.

"These young men and women that go to those schools are students that need the same assistance that everybody else needs throughout the state," he said in a telephone interview following the bill's passage.

A student who used the lottery scholarship to earn an associate degree from a two-year institution can transfer to a tribal college to complete a bachelor's degree program and continue the award, he said was another benefit.

Alcon has proposed the extension during previous regular legislative sessions, but all died before reaching the full state Senate for consideration.

He is optimistic the latest version will receive backing in the Senate before the session ends at noon on March 16.

A similar bill sponsored by state Sen. Benny Shendo Jr. received support from senators as it completed the Senate committee process, Alcon added.

Culinary arts student Lorencita Billiman works on a parfait on Feb. 25, 2015 at Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint.

Shendo's bill is ready for consideration by the full Senate, according to the New Mexico Legislature website.

"It's possible one or the other is going to get done," Alcon said.

Navajo Technical University President Elmer Guy wrote in a statement Friday that the university "is in full support" of Alcon's bill.

NTU believes it is a step in the right direction because it broadens access to higher education for students across the state, Guy stated.

"Equity is at the heart of the legislation, which should be the focus of all higher education initiations," he wrote.

The inclusion of tribal colleges for the lottery scholarship would support and create diversity at NTU and open funds to students attending the campuses in Crownpoint, Kirtland and Zuni, Guy added.

The bill has six sponsors in the House, including San Juan County Reps. Anthony Allison, Harry Garcia, D. Wonda Johnson and Derrick Lente.

Noel Lyn Smith covers the Navajo Nation for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4636 or by email at nsmith@daily-times.com.