The Arizona Board of Regents protected a popular financial aid program Friday, voting unanimously to continue funding the AIMS High Honors Tuition Scholarships.
Even in the current economic crisis, the regents found eliminating merit-based financial aid unpalatable, at least right now.
“We have a contract, in a sense, and there is no fine print for financial emergencies,” regent Robert Bulla said of Arizona high school students’ reliance on the AIMS scholarships.
Ernest Calderón, a regent and Phoenix attorney, vigorously lobbied the board, arguing that the AIMS scholarships are some students’ only option to pay for their higher education.
“When you take away someone’s hope, I think that’s one of the cruelest things possible,” he said.
Calderón proposed that the university system commit to all Arizona high school students who have already taken the AIMS test, and who qualify, that they will receive the scholarship. That would include current sophomores, juniors and seniors.
However, the regents did not pledge to pay for the scholarships for any time beyond next school year.
“It’s a different world and we can’t honor all the commitments we’ve made,” said Fred DuVal, a regent.
And the board could eliminate, or temporarily discontinue, the AIMS scholarship for later years at its next meeting in April.
Last year, 5,544 students received AIMS scholarships statewide, costing the university system $27.6 million, according to data from the regents.
“We will still reduce merit-based aid,” said Arizona State University President Michael Crow. “We have no choice but to reduce merit-based aid.”
Crow is scheduled to present the regents additional proposals for how to reduce spending in April, along with his counterparts at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University.
ASU continues working to cut $60 million in spending this fiscal year, which ends June 30. The cuts are part of a budget package approved by state lawmakers to close a $1.6 billion shortfall.
Crow said ASU received the single largest budget cut of any university in the nation.
The AIMS High Honors Tuition Scholarships, valued at more than $5,000 a year, is guaranteed to students for the first year and is renewable for an additional three years pending university requirements.
To qualify, the general guidelines require that a student “exceeds” standard scores for writing, math and reading on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, in addition to meeting grade point average and course completion requirements.