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Students rail against lawmaker’s proposal on financial aid, tuition

PHOENIX – Grants covering tuition and fees as well as a work-study job that brings in $200 every other week allow Alisha Raccuia to pursue a psychology major and social justice minor at the University of Arizona.

“I didn’t have to really think if I needed to take another job on top of the one I have,” she said. “I’m able to have my weekends free to be able to study and actually try to get an education, because that’s why I’m here.”

Raccuia said a state lawmaker is asking a lot by proposing that students in her situation pay at least $2,000 a year toward their education.

“How am I going to be able to shift my budget to where – it’s really, really slim, I go down to the penny at the end of the semester – to where I can afford an extra $2,000?” she said.

Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, author of HB 2675, said it’s unreasonable that many public university students pay no tuition or fees because of need-based financial aid.

“To give totally free tuition to individuals who haven’t earned it based upon athletic or academic achievement is giving away education,” he said.

His bill, which wouldn’t affect recipients of academic or athletic scholarships and doesn’t cover community colleges, would require full-time resident undergraduate students to pay at least $2,000 per year toward tuition and mandatory fees. Part-time students would pay a prorated amount.

Under the bill, students cannot pay the minimum contribution with funds administered by or through a university or its affiliates. This means federal and state aid distributed by a school, such as the Pell Grant, cannot be used.

The Arizona Students’ Association, a group advocating for students at three public universities, has called for lawmakers to stop Kavanagh’s bill. That includes Raccuia, one of three appointed ASA directors at UA.

“It would be a really big detriment to the students in the state of Arizona to have to pay $2,000 out of pocket,” she said.

Dan Fitzgibbon, a UA student who serves as the group’s chairman, said the legislation conflicts with the Arizona Constitution’s requirement that tuition be as close to free as possible.

“If we’re saying every student has to pay at least $2,000 – with a couple of caveats, and what those are are kind of unclear – obviously that’s not nearly as free as possible,” he said.

Kavanagh said his bill would make students more invested in their education and more likely to graduate.

“Many people believe that this giving away of free tuition creates students who would not otherwise have gone to go to the university,” he said.

In addition, Kavanagh said, free tuition makes universities more appealing to students who would fare better in community colleges, which offer smaller class sizes and more personalized instruction.

“Many of the students who qualify for this free tuition subsidy are academically challenged,” Kavanagh said.

Daniel Hurley, a state relations and policy analyst for the American Association of State Colleges and Universities, called the bill unprecedented and unwarranted. Arizona schools have been nationally recognized for balancing efficiency and affordability, he said.

“It would have a remarkably negative impact on low-income families,” he said.

The Arizona Board of Regents predicts the following impact if HB 2675 becomes law. (Cronkite News Service Graphic by Brittny Goodsell)

The Arizona Board of Regents has said the legislation would limit students’ access to affordable higher education, part of the Arizona state university system’s mission.

“We know that the vast majority of public and private financial aid is administered through each university,” said Katie Paquet, a board spokeswoman. “So $2,000 is a substantial amount of money in today’s day and age and could really mean the difference between a student attending college or not.”

Nearly 35,000 students enrolled in the state university system would be affected by the bill, according to ABOR. Of these, 70 percent come from families whose household incomes total $65,000 or less, a group the board identifies as Arizona’s neediest.

Raccuia said she is lucky – she’s on track to graduate in December and would only be affected for a semester. But she worries about the students who will follow her.

“So it’s just thinking about, how’s this going to affect my neighbors? How’s this going to affect my nieces when they go to school?” she said.

Kavanagh, whose bill had yet to be scheduled for a committee hearing, said he’s surprised at the opposition and is willing to make concessions. For example, he said he’s considering having the $2,000 requirement apply to new students while current full-time students would have to pay at least $1,000.

“Having potential college graduates pay $2,000 a year or a $1,000 a year for the current ones for a degree, which is going to make them far more well-off than the taxpayers that are paying for it, seems reasonable to me,” he said.

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