Students attending the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University who are not on a full-ride scholarship for academics or athletics may be charged an extra $2,000 out-of-pocket to attend school.
While House Bill 2675 would not raise tuition rates if passed, it would require full-time students attending Arizona universities to pay $2,000 per year with no financial assistance from any entity affiliated with an in-state university. These entities include private or public funding such as grants, gifts, scholarships or tuition benefits, according to the legislation.
Students receiving scholarships or grants for athletic or academic merit would be exempt from paying out-of-pocket, and only the top five percent of incoming students would be covered by the exemption, according to the bill.
Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican who introduced the bill, said the idea came about when he was told that 48 percent of ASU students pay no amount of tuition because of subsidies from the university.
“In these times we can’t be giving away for free a fine university education to people who aren’t athletes or scholars,” said Kavanagh, citing the economic problems the state has been having.
The Arizona Constitution states “The University and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be nearly free as possible,” requiring the legislature to use taxes to “insure proper maintenance of all state educational institutions.”
Kavanagh said he does not see this bill as a violation of the state constitution because it does not actually raise the price of student tuition.
Although the proposed legislation would not raise tuition, representatives from the Arizona Board of Regents and Arizona Students’Association said they believe the proposed legislation will affect accessibility for potential students to attend in-state universities.
Sarah Harper, a spokeswoman for the regents, said that HB 2675 as it’s currently written would impact Arizona University System’s mission of ensuring affordable access to higher education to all segments of Arizona’s population, and have an “immensely negative impact” on the ability of Arizona’s working-class families to send their children to college. In addition, she said the bill would create added financial burden to students who rely on need-based scholarships to assist them with the cost of higher education.
“The legislation also assumes that students only face costs in the form of tuition,” she said. “In fact, other costs — such as books, course fees, housing and meals — also add to the price of a higher education.”
Student debt loan has doubled in the past five years alone, Dan Fitzgibbon, board chair of the Arizona Students’ Association, said, and the average debt loan taken on by a student has exceeded $20,000.
“In passing this bill, it will affect more than universities and students economically, but the entire state,” he added.
When asked if the bill would unfairly affect students of a lower socio-economic status who may be receiving need-based aid, while financially unaffecting students from families of a higher status, Kavanagh said, “Rich people will always be able to afford better cars.”
Associated Students of the University of Arizona President James Allen explained that if the UA wanted to offer a non merit-based scholarship to a “brilliant” student, that student would still have to pay the fee, which could potentially push the student away from attending the university.
“Not every student has $2,000 lying around, especially when that is the difference between food, money or gas,” Allen said. “This is a vitally important battle to fight, and it eclipses all of the conversations we (ASUA) had in the last few years.”
Both Fitzgibbon and Allen said that the proposed legislation could drive some of the best performing students in the state away.
Kavanagh disagreed, saying that discounted rates at state universities may be pushing students in when they aren’t ready and should be at local community colleges.
“Some people when they get it (education) for free don’t take it as seriously. Paying for what you get builds character,” Kavanagh added.
ASUA and ASA will be lobbying at the state Capitol this weekend for their annual Lobby Con event, where 150 students will explain to state legislators about the importance of supporting issues regarding higher education. Explaining why the legislators must oppose HB 2675, Allen said, will be a “huge priority” at the event.
“There are so many costs students have to incur, people think tuition is all they have to pay,” Fitzgibbon said. “It’s sad, of all things.”