PHOENIX - Spotting her outside the State Capitol, Tom Wahl, student body president at Northern Arizona University, wanted a key lawmaker to know why he supports a bill intended make textbooks more affordable for college students.
“The reason we’re here today is basically to lobby for affordability, and that includes the textbook bill in the House right now,” Wahl, a senior majoring in accounting, told Rep. Jennifer Burns, R-Avra Valley.
Later in the day, Burns would chair a House Higher Education Committee hearing on that bill.
Dozens of students from NAU, the University of Arizona and Arizona State University traveled to the Arizona State Capitol on Monday to participate in the Arizona Students’ Association’s 21st annual Student Lobby Day. ASA, a student-run group, advocates for those attending all three universities.
In informal chats, office meetings, committee hearings and a luncheon on the Capitol lawn, the students told lawmakers what they think about tuition costs, textbook prices and financial aid.
“It’s important that legislators know that we’re paying attention and we’re watching and we need their help and support in higher education to better the state,” said Rich Williams, an NAU senior majoring in history.
Williams, ASA’s legislative chair, addressed the House Higher Education Committee before it approved an amended version of HB 2230, a bill introduced by Rep. Andrew Tobin, R-Paulden, that would require textbook publishers to disclose prices and other relevant information when asked by university faculty. Tobin crafted the bill with input from ASA.
Williams told the panel he has to spend about $500 a semester to buy textbooks, an amount that left him unable buy all of the books required for his courses this semester.
“The state puts so much money into resources to educate the citizens and then publishers come in and take advantage,” Williams said.
Andrew Rigazio, undergraduate student government president at ASU, and other students attending the hearing were unhappy when the committee approved an amendment by Burns that would require textbook publishers to provide information required under the bill only upon request. The original version would have required disclosure in all cases.
“This is an important piece of legislation, and we support the student-initiated legislation in its current form,” Rigazio, a sophomore majoring in accounting and finance, told the committee.
Michael Slugocki, who represents Associated Students of the University of Arizona on ASA’s board, told the committee there’s momentum nationally to address the high cost of university textbooks.
“Student support will greatly decrease with the ‘upon request’ clause,” said Slugocki, a senior majoring in political science.
Earlier in the day, Rep. Kirk Adams, R-Mesa, nodded intently as ASU Polytechnic students Matt McCoy, a senior majoring in air transportation management, and Ryan Fogelsanger, a junior professional flight major, described the debt many students incur in their program, which they said costs $50,000 above tuition over two years.
“I think the biggest thing with tuition is keeping it manageable for students but also not increasing tuition to the point that it’s ridiculous,” McCoy said.
Adams said he applauds students willing to take their cases to lawmakers.
“Whenever non-lobbyists come down and talk to their legislators and testify in committee, it really does have a big impact, so I appreciate that,” Adams said.
Back on the lawn, Tommy Bruce, UA’s student body president, said he’s worried that the state’s budget deficit will ultimately make college more expensive.
“Even though we are in a year of budget cuts, we need to prioritize, and higher education should be a priority,” said Bruce, a junior majoring in marketing.