Wyomingites for a Better Economy Today and Tomorrow
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In a study published on August 22, 2002, by The Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, troubling findings were published about the New Mexico and other state "Merit" lotteries.  This study confirms the assertion by the New Mexico Coalition Against Gambling that the revenue for the "Success Scholarships" is being raised largely from the poor, and that the scholarships are being given mainly to students from middle and upper economic income families, who would normally be able to afford their own education.

Pertinent sections from the press release follow:

"'Who Should We Help? The Negative Social Consequences of Merit Scholarships,' edited by Donald E. Heller and Patricia Marin, foreword by Gary Orfield, studies four of the country's merit scholarship programs including three of the nation's four largest programs to assess the impact of these programs on their states. The report focuses primarily on the question of whether these programs promote college access and attainment in each state, and how well the programs serve the needs of students from different income and racial and ethnic groups...

Co-editor of this report, Professor Donald E. Heller, of Pennsylvania State University, agrees with Orfield and noted that: "Policy makers are particularly concerned about the persistent gaps in post-secondary participation between rich and poor, and between racial majority and minority students. Understanding the impact of merit scholarship programs is particularly important in light of the challenges facing higher education in the near future. At the same time the nation is facing these demographic trends, state capacity for funding higher education along with the willingness to do so is being diminished..."

The authors found that state merit scholarships are being awarded disproportionately to populations of students who historically, and today, have the highest college participation rates. This includes students from middle and upper-income families, as well as white students. Furthermore, the evidence in this report indicates that the FOUR PROGRAMS analyzed here do little to provide financial assistance to the students who need it most.

Here are brief descriptions of the four programs examined in this report:

1. The first and best-known broad-based state merit scholarship program is the Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally (HOPE) program in Georgia. Begun in 1993, it is now the largest state-run merit scholarship program in the country, awarding approximately $300 million in 2000-01. Researchers found that only 4% of expenditures for this program resulted in increased college access in the state; the remaining 96% of the funds subsidized college costs for students who would have attended college anyway.

2. Florida's Bright Futures Scholarship program, like Georgia's, uses the state lottery as a funding source and awards full scholarships to students attending state-sponsored institutions of higher education (and a comparable amount to those enrolled in private institutions). While African Americans represented 22% of all high school graduates in Florida, they received only 8% of the scholarships.

3. Michigan's Merit Award Scholarship awards one-time grants of up to $2,500 to students who earn high scores on the state's curriculum-based assessment. The program is funded by the state's share of the national tobacco settlement. Similar to the findings in Florida, while African Americans represented 14% of the high school students in Michigan, they received only 4% of the scholarships.

4. New Mexico's Success Scholarship is similar to Georgia's, in that it awards full scholarships to students who attend state-sponsored colleges and universities and is funded by the state lottery. Almost 80% of the recipients were from families earning more than $40,000 per year, well above the state's median income of approximately $32,000."

It turns out that New Mexico's Success Scholarships are actually discouraging lower-income students from attending the Universities around the state.  There are also accusations from several quarters that UNM and other state schools are lowering academic standards to help students qualify for these scholarships, so that the University can benefit from the scholarship money.

The poor paying for the college education of the well-healed.  Is this what we were sold by the lottery advocates?