State gets 'F' for tuition aid it gives poor
The Arizona Republic
Sept. 10, 2006

Eugene Scott
The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Arizona an "F" when it comes to affordability, but state and university officials say higher education is more affordable in Arizona than in most other states.

The San Jose-based center this week released Measuring Up 2006, a biennial report card that measures the country's ability to educate high school graduates. The center used data from the U.S. Department of Education, the U.S. Census and the Internal Revenue Service.

Arizona, along with 42 other states, flunked affordability because center officials said the state does not provide need-based financial aid, making it impossible for many Arizonans to pursue a higher education. But the Arizona Board of Regents said in-state tuition in Arizona is in the lowest third of the country's universities. And last year, Arizona State University became the first university in the West to offer a free education to students from households in which the family income is at the federal poverty level or below.

Colleges like to look at affordability by comparing themselves with others, said Joni Finney, vice president of the National Center.

"But we look at how it affects families on various income levels," Finney said.

The U.S. Census reported that the 2005 median household income in Arizona was $45,245. Total costs for the current school year at ASU are estimated by university officials at $16,361 - more than 35 percent of the median household income. Costs include tuition, books, fees, transportation, personal expenses and room and board.

Dollars from wealthy

Finney criticized Arizona for using tuition dollars from wealthier students to educate the needy.

"You're attracting the highest-income students in the state to the University of Arizona and Arizona State University, so it's relatively easy to engage in that practice," she said. "But you can't really do that at community colleges, because you're often taking from the poor to give to the poor."

Tuition dollars from wealthier students are used to educate needy students in Arizona, but the state provides more money than the students.

Laura Knaperek, chair of the House Universities, Community Colleges and Technology Committee, said the Legislature earlier this year voted to increase the money it awards universities for financial aid. That money includes funding for needy students as well as merit scholarships, many of which go to needy students, she said.

"Every enrolled student pays 1 percent of their tuition towards a fund, and we match it with 2 percent. The fund's dollars are used specifically for low-income scholarships and grants," said Knaperek, who represents District 17, which includes the ASU main campus.

The center accuses Arizona of using too much financial aid for merit scholarships and not enough for need-based grants. But John Nametz, University of Arizona's director of student financial aid, said merit scholarships, public and private, often go to needy students.

"We're really good to students. A lot of our donors want their gifts given to needy students," he said. "And if the donor left it open, guess what I'm going to do with that? I'm giving it to students in need."

University officials said no report could deny Arizona's commitment to providing an affordable college education. About 50 percent of UA students receive need-based financial aid, Nametz said.

"The state assistance programs are wonderful programs for needy students.
Are they enough? No, and because they're not enough, the federal government has a much larger investment in our students. It could be argued that the state should have a larger investment, but I don't want to say that the state of Arizona isn't doing anything," he said.

University and state officials encourage students to apply for federal aid because of the state's limited resources.

Arizona also has a program that helps needy community college students afford the state's private universities, Knaperek said.

1 of lowest tuitions

"We maintain one of the lowest tuitions in the nation, and we also have a
constitutional clause saying that instruction has to be nearly as free as
possible," she said. "The attitude in the state over the generations has
been we already have affordability and we don't need to develop all these
new programs."

Full-time Maricopa County community college students with 15-credit loads
pay about $2,010 annually in tuition and fees. This was an 8.3 percent jump
over last year's costs.

Because in-state tuition at Arizona universities has increased significantly
over the past four years, something has to be done, Knaperek said.

"Public policymakers say we need to do a little more, and we're finding they
have a lot more debt and less choices in higher education, so that's what
we're looking at now," she said.