NEW MEXICO (KRQE) – A group of Republican senators are looking to change the Opportunity Scholarship into a loan. The change would make certain people pay back the funds the state gave out.
In the Senate Education Committee meeting Wednesday, Senator William Sharer (R-Farmington) said nothing changes if you get your degree or certificate under the Opportunity Scholarship. However, if you don’t finish school or drop out, you’d be on the hook for the money the state gave you.
“This doesn’t change anything as far as your ability to go to school. If you go and you complete it, you don’t pay anything. You don’t have to make payments as you go. So, it’s not a monthly obligation. So, you get to go to school. The one thing that it does incentivize is completing school,” Sharer explained.
Senate Bill 481 states repayment of any money given under the Opportunity Scholarship would happen if the student didn’t meet eligibility criteria, which currently stands at taking at least six credit hours per semester and maintaining a 2.5 GPA.
Senator Sharer said funding from oil and gas won’t last forever and having this repayment provision would help the fund stay viable.
Discussion in the Senate Education Committee centered on concerns that changing the scholarship into a loan would saddle low-income students with more debt in the event they have to drop out. Concerns were also raised that taxpayers should not have to fund education for people who don’t complete school.
“It is important to not disincentivize students of low income to go to higher education and by hanging it over their head that they may have to repay back a loan would seriously make a lot of students second guess whether it would be worth it to go to college or not,” one person in opposition said.
This bill also creates a requirement for the Higher Education Department. They will have to report the number of scholarships forgiven in the previous academic year.
A motion to table this bill died in committee on a 4 to 4 tie vote. The committee did pass the bill forward without a recommendation. It now heads to the Senate Finance Committee.