Education merits support at
all leadership levels
Our view: Some state lawmakers could learn from Pima County leaders about investing in people to benefit community
Two conflicting efforts involving higher education in Arizona were announced last week. Taken together, they illustrate the tug of war between the forces that understand the role of education in economic and social progress and those wedded to a myopic philosophy that views public money spent on higher education as a financial burden for the state, not an investment.
The forward-looking effort is the creation and launch of the Regional College Access Center, an effort led by the Metropolitan Education Commission and financially supported by the city of Tucson, Pima County and the Tohono O'odham nation.
The Regional College Access Center, which will go live on Wednesday, gathers in one place information that students, families and adults wanting to attend college or return to school need to know. The information will be available online at www.metedu.org/rcac or at the commission office, 10 E. Broadway, Suite 10, on the southeast corner of Broadway and Stone.
The center is intended to be a one-stop place to learn how to prepare for college or vocational school, how to choose a school and apply, how to pay for it and how to stay there through graduation. It will include information on what college-prep programs local school districts offer and who to contact with questions at the University of Arizona or Pima Community College. Information will be in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Korean and Vietnamese.
Traditionally, high school students turned to their school counselors for help with college questions. But today's high school counselors are responsible for hundreds of students, making it impossible to give individual attention to everyone. The Regional College Access Center helps fill the gap.
PCC West President Louis Albert said he supports the center because it's clear from the high-school dropout rate and the low number of students who enroll in college that local school districts haven't adequately prepared kids and their families for college. This is especially true for families where no one has been through the complicated process. The Regional College Access Center will help break down this barrier.
Families without Internet access at home can get to the Web site through computers at public libraries or neighborhood centers, and the site is structured so users can save information — maybe a college you're interested in — and pick up where they left off at a later time.
Tucson Mayor Bob Walkup and Pima County Board of Supervisors Chairman Richard Elias each told the Star they support the center because they understand that economic development — fancy words for making sure local residents have access to jobs that pay well — is dependent on higher education.
This direct connection is lost, not surprisingly, on some Arizona lawmakers.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, wants to reduce state financial aid to university students as a way to balance the budget. The state is projected to have a $970 million deficit this year.
Kavanagh wants university students who qualify for financial aid based on need — which means they don't have enough money to pay for college — to pay for at least 40 percent of their tuition, which is about $5,000. He told Capitol Media Services that he doesn't think it's fair for people who, according to statistics, will end up earning more because of their college degrees to be subsidized by Arizonans without college educations.
Kavanagh is wrong. It makes more sense to help more Arizonans go to school and earn a degree so they will earn more in their lifetimes. Higher-paid residents generate more tax revenue, which helps the entire state. Arizona needs more college graduates, not fewer.
Kavanagh's 40-percent measurement only applies to need-based student aid, not students who receive scholarships for academic excellence or to play a college sport. It's worth noting that according to the 2000 Census the median family income in Fountain Hills was $68,185, well above the Arizona family median of $46,723. Families in Kavanagh's neighborhood may not need help with tuition, but many Arizona families do.
UA President Robert Shelton said some students do receive full-ride scholarships if they cannot pay for tuition, but he said students or their families contribute financially "in almost every case," according to a story by Capitol Media Services.
Unfortunately, Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, chairs the House Appropriations Committee and said Kavanagh's plan merits consideration because it requires a "fair contribution" from students. We hope other lawmakers who value education and the state's economic development will stand up and keep Kavanagh's plan from pulling Arizona backward.