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Legislators: Get over tuition hike

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, February 19, 2004
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PHOENIX State lawmakers sent a message yesterday afternoon to students who say they are struggling to pay for midcareer tuition hikes: Suck it up.

A bill that would have exempted students at Arizona's universities from midcareer tuition hikes was voted down unanimously in the House Committee on Education.

The bill's sponsor, Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, lamented the death of the bill, which would have stabilized tuition for full-time undergraduates for four consecutive years while seeking their degrees.

"I introduced the bill to send the message that every time you raise tuition, you price someone out of the education system," McCune Davis said.

While Arizona Board of Regents lobbyist Cathy McGonigle argued that universities increased financial aid to help increase accessibility in the face of record tuition increases, McCune Davis said it doesn't go far enough.

"If you are going to do significant tuition increases to students that are currently engaged in learning in our university campuses, those increases need to be phased in, not dropped in on them all at one time," McCune Davis said. "When an increase is put in place that creates havoc for those families and those students that are in the school."

McCune Davis said the bill would not have stopped students from paying next fall's impending tuition hikes, but UA lobbyist Greg Fahey said if the Legislature ended earlier than expected it may have blocked the hikes, costing the state's universities $24.7 million in lost tuition revenue next year, roughly $3.5 million of which would have gone toward financial aid.

McGonigle pointed out that Arizona's tuition is still in the bottom third nationally, compared with peer institutions, and stressed that last year's hikes significantly boosted financial aid for needy students.

Losing the tuition funding would cause a fiscal crisis at the universities, McGonigle said.

"If the universities are denied the revenue they need to operate the university and provide the programs, the quality of education significantly suffers," McGonigle said.

Many of the lawmakers who voted against the bill said they were concerned that the bill would lead universities to shift tuition hikes disproportionately to incoming freshmen to recoup the dip in revenue.

"Freezing tuition on current students will create greater financial burden on incoming students," said Rep. Olivia Cajero Bedford, D-Tucson.

Some representatives said that higher tuition will make students more appreciative of their education and make them take their school experience more seriously.

"I think this is a nice effort to alleviate some of the angst of things. But you know what? When something is important in your life and you value what you are getting, you invest in it," said Rep. John Allen, R-Scottsdale.

Others said they sympathized with students but still voted against the measure because it would cause too much financial burden on the university.

"I think the idea of trying to create an element of predictability for families financially is a good idea. I am critical of anything that unloads a significant tuition increase on families trying to put their kids through school," said Rep. Ben Miranda, D-Phoenix.

"But it's just not possible. What we are talking about here is, to a certain extent, subsidizing the education of those folks that are ahead of you by charging more for people that are entering the system."

Stripping the universities of their ability to hike tuition in light of dips in state funding in past years would have led to more brain drain and program cuts, said Fahey after the decision.

"We have lost substantial amounts of general fund money at the UA. So if we can't raise tuition also, we're sort of boxed to the point where there's no place to try and keep financial stability," Fahey said.

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