Many Arizona university students may find themselves paying more to go to school should a minimum tuition bill, HB 2675 sponsored by Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, become law.
The bill stipulates state university students must pay $2,000 unless they have a full-ride scholarship based on athletics or academics, thus eliminating need-based full-ride scholarships and limiting other scholarships of this nature that are affiliated with the university.
"A student may not use any other source of public or private funding including grants, gifts, scholarships or tuition benefits or other types of funding administered by or through a university or an affiliate of the university," the legislation reads.
Students may still use outside scholarships, Pell Grants, student loans and other non-university related funding to make up that difference though.
"The university cannot transfer internal funds to get you below $2,000 unless it is an athletic or academic full-ride (scholarship)," Kavanagh said.
The phrase "affiliate of a university" made it into the bill to target the ASU Foundation. "We don't want them laundering the money," he said.
Despite these limitations, the universities would still be allowed to offer merit-based scholarships.
This bill comes at a time when students are taking on more and more debt to attend college.
According to a report released by the Arizona Board of Regents in December, students took on more debt during the 2010-11 school year than the year prior.
Undergraduate student debt increased $1,212, or 6.1 percent. The average total amount of debt increased from $19,946 to $21,158. Graduate student debt also rose. It increased by $2,821, or 6.7 percent over the same time frame. Total debt rose from $42,097 to $44,918.
The size of loans is not the only thing that increased; higher numbers of students resorted to loans as well. There was a 2.9 percent increase among undergraduates and a 4.7 percent increase among graduate students.
"I don't see why these (college graduates) who are going to earn so much more (than high school graduates) can't take out loans for $2,000. It's a small fraction of the cost of their education. Graduating with an $8,000 loan is not the end of the world," Kavanagh said.
Rep. Anna Tovar, D-Tolleson, begs to differ though. She maintains that students shouldn't be forced to resort to loans for their education.
"I think the ultimate goal for a student is to graduate with the least amount of debt as possible... Eight thousand dollars of debt to me is a very high amount of debt to be coming out as a brand-new, graduating student when the other alternative is coming out with zero debt," she said.
Kavanagh said the exception for academics and athletes was decided because those groups earned it and also contribute to the university.
"Academic scholars earned the free tuition and by raising the intellectual level of the university, they create greater value for everybody. Athletic scholars have also earned it because they contribute to school spirit, and those on football and basketball teams also generate a lot of extra revenue," Kavanagh said.
These possible restrictions on need-based scholarships come at a time when there is a growing need for them.
The number of undergraduates receiving financial aid over the last five years has increased by over 16,500, or over 65 percent. Growth for financial-aid need among minorities outstripped this, growing by 71.5 percent.
"We definitely need a workforce for the 21st century, and that's going to come by having well-trained, young individuals who have a degree. I feel that this is prohibiting, actually creating a hurdle for our students to attain that dream of graduating college, or even attending college," Tovar said.
The bill came about as a result of a testimony in front of the House Appropriations Committee last year. Lawmakers were told that 48 percent of ASU in-state undergraduates do not pay any tuition whatsoever.
"This is not right. Our taxpayers shouldn't be paying toward free tuition in these difficult times. When students are paying nothing many don't take the classes as seriously, and we have also created a perverse incentive for students who may not be academically prepared for universities," Kavanagh said.
Sen. David Schapira, D-Tempe, sees this minimum tuition as a problem rather than a solution though.
"This is an awful idea... It is basically setting up another barrier for people with a lower socio-economic status. We need to be headed in the direction of providing more education access, more educational opportunity," Schapira said.