Bill Pushes College Degrees Out Of Reach

Posted on: February 27, 2012

Opinion-Editorial - Arizona Republic, 02/26/2012
By Paul J. Luna and Steve G. Seleznow

A rather quiet battle is being waged in the Legislature that every Arizonan concerned with our state's future prosperity ought to be watching. If we are serious about developing a well-educated population to fuel our economy and improve our quality of life, House Bill 2675 is a giant step in the wrong direction.

Narrowly passed by the House Appropriations Committee last Wednesday and now headed for a House vote, the bill would require most students at Arizona's public universities to contribute $2,000 annually toward their tuition. Until last week's hearing, that contribution could not be made via scholarships or grants -- even those that are privately funded. Athletic and National Merit scholarships are exempt.

As Arizona's largest providers of scholarships and education funding, we appreciate the opposing voices that prompted an amendment to the bill. The version of HB 2675 now headed to the House removes the restriction on private scholarships, such as those provided by individual donors and philanthropic foundations, to cover students' $2,000 per-year obligation.
Still, this single amendment and others submitted for the committee's consideration simply do not go far enough. Even with certain groups exempted, the bill places an unfair burden on too many students who have applied for and earned what is needed to fully fund their education. And, it represents an enormous intrusion by government into the lives of students, who should not be subject to random legislation that forces upon them unnecessary debt and ultimately creates barriers to college completion.

HB 2675 will deny the dream of a college degree to many students from low-income families -- those who benefit greatly from what a college education provides. When faced with at least $8,000 of debt upon completion of a four-year degree, students from these already-financially strapped families are far more likely to opt out of college altogether.
In a continually struggling economy where families must examine every expense, the bill threatens to drive our best and brightest students out of state to universities offering more enticing and complete scholarships and financial-aid packages. Statistically, we know those students are less likely to bring their educations and skills back to Arizona, thereby depriving our state of the economic prosperity a highly educated workforce brings.

Our university students are not only young people with many years ahead of them to repay debt. Returning adult students of all ages -- balancing work, families of their own and other financial obligations -- will face what may be an impassable obstacle on the path to improving life for their family because of this bill.
Arizona set an aspirational goal in its Constitution more than 100 years ago of making a college education "nearly as free as possible" for every student. Having just celebrated its centennial, Arizona has now set bold goals for its next 100 years -- many of which hinge on a significant increase in the number of Arizonans who hold college degrees. We should be looking at measures that increase access to higher education, not slam the door.

Steven G. Seleznow is president and CEO of the Arizona Community Foundation. Paul J. Luna is president and CEO of Helios Education Foundation.

Category: Foundation Feature

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