Free school proposed for Guard

By Beth Silver

Arizona Daily Wildcat

PHOENIX Students who have served in the National Guard may soon be able to go to college in Arizona for free, under a bill proposed by a state legislator.

But the bill contains no money to pay for the schooling for which about 6,000 National Guardsmen in the state would be eligible.

Instead, the bill's sponsor, Rep. Wes Marsh, R-Scottsdale, said National Guardsmen could go to any of the state's three universities or community colleges on a "space-available" basis. That means if there is an empty space in the classroom, they don't have to pay for the class, he said.

Ben Driggs, a University of Arizona delegate to the Arizona Students' Association, called the idea impossible.

"As far as I can see at the University of Arizona, it wouldn't be a possibility," he said. "Classes are full or filled beyond capacity . The universities would have to make up for the lost revenue somehow."

Suzanne Pfister, spokeswoman for the Arizona Board of Regents, said the bill was modeled after laws in Louisiana and Alaska where colleges have available classroom space. But because Arizona has an enrollment problem, she said it would be impossible to employ the same program.

In addition, the bill only states that the guardsmen would have a tuition waiver, Pfister said. Under the bill, then, they would go for free whether or not there was classroom space.

Marsh said it was "not on the front burner" of his legislative agenda. But if university officials support the idea, he will try to get the bill through this session.

The regents endorsed the plan at its meeting last Thursday, but with the stipulation that the state pay for the waivers. Otherwise, Pfister said, the universities would have to pick up the tab.

Mark Hamilton, a UA math junior who is in the National Guard, said free tuition would serve as an incentive to join the National Guard.

"Of course I'd be glad because I wouldn't have to pay for school," he said. "It would make more people join the National Guard, especially lower-income people."

Hamilton estimated that there are about 30 National Guardsmen at the UA.

Marsh, himself a National Guardsman, said the bill would not affect him because he already has his master's degree.

"These are members of our state militia who serve in times of war and peace and it certainly would be helpful to them to have the free education," Marsh said.

The tuition and fees waiver would be good for five years of school at the universities, a community college or a vocational technical school.

If a National Guardsman is called to active duty in the middle of his or her schooling, he would be allowed to continue when he returns. The student would have to maintain a "C" average every semester. He also would have to be registered to vote.

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