Critics Say Raising The Bar For UNM Scholarships Promotes Exclusion

Oct 17, 2013

Michele Roberts from Washington D.C. attended the Bridge Scholarship forum Wednesday at the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico main campus in Albuquerque.
Credit Natalia Jácquez / The Daily Lobo

About a year ago UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah asked his blog readers, “How do we keep UNM students from dropping out because of financial need, in the face of current and future cuts in state and federal financial aid?”

UNM Provost Chaouki Abdallah
Credit Office of the Provost / UNM

The University has come up with an answer that has created an uproar. The Albuquerque Journal reported the postponement of a tightened scholarship requirement after a lively public forum Wednesday hosted New Mexico Coalition for Equity and Justice. There, the Provost was lambasted for plans that critics say have discriminatory implications.

In question, is a renovation of the Bridge to Success scholarship that helps new local students with their first semester’s tuition at UNM. Currently, eligible students have earned at least a 2.5 GPA in high school.

Students who then earn at least a 2.5 GPA during their first semester at UNM are eligible for the Lottery Scholarship that contributes tuition funds for the next eight semesters as long as a 2.5 GPA is maintained. 

The Daily Lobo reported that Abdallah told the forum's 250 attendees that results with the current system are often disappointing. He said that students who enroll with low high school GPAs usually drop out. Abdallah emphasized his point by saying that less than 30 percent of students entering with a GPA under 3.0 graduate within six years compared to 51 percent of students with higher GPAs.

Abdallah told the crowd that the point of the new scholarship guidelines, which raises the Bridge to Success Scholarship GPA requirement to 3.0, was not to exclude minorities, but to keep New Mexico’s top students in state. He said that only 23 percent of the state’s best students stay here for college. 

In addition to the change in requirements, the new Bridge scholarship would have a higher award of $1,500, compared to the $1,000 offered now and would require a minimum score of 23 on the ACT and 1070 on the SAT.

It was the new, higher requirements and the unilateral and unpublicized change by the administration that caused the New Mexico League of United Latin American Citizens to object to what they see as a policy of exclusion.  Students also voiced concerns that rewarding merit could penalize minorities who have more need for financial aid.