UNM students on Cornell Mall

When a freshman is admitted to the University of New Mexico under the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship program, most don’t realize that the NM Lottery does not pay for the first semester of study.  It goes into effect after a student has successfully completed his or her first semester. To assist students who depend on that financial assistance to attend UNM, the university traditionally has offered a “Bridge to Success Scholarship” of $1,000 for the first semester to bridge the gap until the student qualifies for the New Mexico Legislative Lottery Scholarship.

As part of an overall restructuring of UNM financial aid, the “Bridge to Success Scholarship” will continue and increase to $1,500 for the first semester, but the students entering UNM in fall 2014 must have a 3.0 GPA and a 23 ACT score in order to qualify for the scholarship.

A new program, the “Success Grant” will require a 2.5 high school grade point average, just as the “Bridge to Success Scholarship” program did. It will also require students to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). UNM Enrollment Management initially planned to implement the $1,000 Success Grants with a 3.0 GPA requirement in Fall 2014, but decided to keep the current 2.5 GPA requirement for one more year while communicating the changes to future students and families.

Students who have a higher GPA will have access to additional scholarship opportunities. Those opportunities are available at the scholarship website.  Students who need assistance in completing the FAFSA can find it on the UNM Financial Aid website.

The decision to restructure the merit scholarships comes after more than a year of consideration and is in line with the goals set in the UNM 2020 strategic plan to increase retention and graduation. Provost Chaouki Abdallah says the proposed changes are part of a coordinated effort to make sure students succeed at UNM. “The most important proposed change would give a large number of students more funding, rather than providing everyone, including those who are not in need with the same amount,” Abdallah said.

Why Change the Financial Aid Program?

UNM embarked on a long-term effort to attract students who are more prepared academically and then help them succeed in college. The effort includes dual enrollment for high school students capable of doing university work, coordinating with high schools on their curriculum, providing more financial aid and advising for those admitted to UNM, and an effort to coordinate curriculum with Central New Mexico Community College to allow students who are less academically prepared to begin their college careers at CNM and transfer to UNM at an appropriate time. UNM Associate Vice President for Enrollment Management Terry Babbitt said the effort to ensure student success is another critical reason for the change.

Some students who receive a “Bridge to Success Scholarship” with less than a 3.0 high school GPA are successful, but many others are not. When UNM looks at students who enroll with less than a 3.0 GPA, 66.9 percent come back for a third semester, but only 29.7 percent graduate within six years. Unfortunately, those who do not graduate accumulate more debt and most never had a chance to earn a lottery scholarship.

In contrast, 81.2 percent of students who enroll at UNM with a 3.0 GPA or higher come back for a third semester, and 51.1 percent graduate within six years. UNM has a goal of retaining 80 percent of students for the third semester and graduating 50 percent within six years.

UNM also conducted a study about the recipients of “Bridge to Success Scholarships” in 2011 and found some sobering information. Of the 266 “Bridge to Success Scholarship” recipients who entered UNM that year with less than a 3.0 GPA and who did not return for their sophomore year:

  • 39 percent had student loans averaging $4,841
  • 73 percent did not attain the NM Legislative Lottery Scholarship.

“Our primary goal with these changes is to retain support and access for students to attend UNM who are prepared and not encourage those who are most likely to have challenges to attend for one or two semesters and potentially leave school with thousands in debt and no prospect of attaining a lottery scholarship,” Babbitt said.