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Friday March 9, 2001

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Bill introduced to help middle-class students pay for college

By Eric Swedlund

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Money put toward state savings plan would not affect financial aid eligibility

PHOENIX - A Senate panel yesterday approved a measure that would protect family savings directed toward a student's college expenses from being counted against the student in determining eligibility for state financial aid.

Senate Bill 1085 would exempt money in the Arizona Family College Savings Plan from being treated as income in the determination of student financial need. The bill unanimously passed the Senate Education Committee.

Sen. Andy Nichols, D-Tucson, proposed the bill as an incentive for middle-class families to take part in the savings program.

"The purpose is to not provide a disincentive for family members to put money in," Nichols said. "This is to try to get people to take responsibility to the degree they can for their children's education."

Sen. Ken Bennett, R-Prescott, proposed an amendment that would restrict the bill to aid from the Arizona Financial Aid Trust program, the Leveraging Educational Assistance program and the Arizona Private Postsecondary Education Student Financial Assistance program. The amendment was adopted.

Paul Peterson, executive director of the Arizona Students Association, spoke before the committee to point out that because of the limited amount of state financial aid, low-income students could find themselves competing for aid or seeing a reduction in financial aid.

Nichols said this won't affect the number of federal programs, such as the Pell grant, that offer aid to need-based students.

"This is designed to provide some assurance for middle-class families," Nichols said. "This is not directed to the most needy students."

Greg Fahey, UA lobbyist, said that if ASA has concerns that the bill might have unintended harm on low-income and under-represented students, the university would be willing to work with them toward an appropriate solution.