Tribal colleges are the only public higher education institutions in New Mexico where students cannot use the state lottery scholarship. A measure approved by the Senate Education Committee on Friday morning would change that.
The bill would make students eligible for lottery scholarships if they attend Diné College, Navajo Technical University, or the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA).
Larry Mirabal, Chief Financial Officer at IAIA, told lawmakers that Native American students are often first-generation college students and many come from low-income backgrounds.
"Despite these many challenges, New Mexico’s best and brightest Native students are beating the odds and crossing our stages with diplomas," he said. "Making lottery funds available makes it possible for Native students to have more choices in selecting their educational path."
If the measure passes, the Legislative Finance Committee reports about 125 to 200 students would become eligible for the lottery scholarship between the three schools, costing less than one percent of the total $42 million of lottery scholarship revenue.
Sen. Craig Brandt (R-Rio Rancho) raised concerns that providing state funds to tribal colleges would violate the state Constitution's anti-donation clause, but the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Benny Shendo, Jr. (D-Jemez Pueblo), pointed out that these three tribal colleges are all public institutions. They’re federally funded and anyone can attend.
The state's other tribal college, Southwestern Indian Polytechnic Institute (SIPI), is operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and does not admit non-Native students, so students there still couldn’t get the lottery scholarship, if this bill becomes law.
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