Campus leaders deliver address

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Colin Darland

Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat Associated Students of The University of Arizona president James Allen speaks to a group of university and ASUA officials during the 2012 State of the Student address in the Student Union Memorial Center on Tuesday, April 3, 2012. Among those in attendance was Congressman Raul Grijalva of Arizona’s 7th congressional district.

Brittny Mejia

At the third annual State of the Student address, speakers called on students, regents, administrators and faculty to confront the financial challenges of higher education together.

Roeland Hancock, president of the Graduate and Professional Student Council, spoke about the council’s accomplishments this year. This included funds it was able to award to students and student organizations as well as workshops it created for constituents, among others.

But Hancock said these accomplishments were small compared to the challenges that education as a whole faces now. Students need to get more involved regarding the future of their education, he said.

“Without an engaged populace, any government is both powerless to effect change for the benefit of people represented and has the power to wreak havoc,” Hancock said. “This is your life as a young adult to determine your financial right for decades to come.”

Dan Fitzgibbon, chairman for the Arizona Students’ Association, followed Hancock and spoke about the association’s victories, one of which was raising awareness about proposed cuts to federal Pell Grant funding. Pell Grants are need-based and awarded to low-income students. In the end, Pell Grant funding suffered no cuts, Fitzgibbon said.

While Pell Grants were safe, Fitzgibbon said the cost to attend universities in Arizona has doubled in the last five years. He said that according to recent Arizona Board of Regents data, about 40 percent of students in the Arizona University System were not getting the financial aid they needed.

“As I’m sure many of the students in this room understand, I think we’ve dug so deeply into our own pockets that it feels as though our fingernails are scraping the floorboards,” Fitzgibbon said.

Forcing students into debt to finance their education is not just a burden on students but also on the economy at large, Fitzgibbon said. It is estimated that students in the U.S. collectively owe more than $1 trillion in student debt, a figure that exceeds credit card debt, he said.

“It is now evident that the time of discussing the problem is long since past, and that the era of action must be made here, now, with us,” Fitzgibbon added.

James Allen, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, spoke about “turbulent times,” as financial hardship and political attrition have “forced us to fight to stay alive.”

“This is the first State of the Student address where we stand at a point where we can almost take a breath,” Allen said. “For once in recent memory, we can stop and say: Where are we now? Where has the current taken us?”

Allen spoke about tuition increasing nearly 100 percent since 2007, Arizona undergraduate students leaving college with more than $21,000 in student debt since 2010 and graduate students now leaving college with an average of $44,000 in debt.

Overall, the university system has lost $428 million in state funding since 2008, Allen said. Per-student funding fell about 50 percent, and ultimately Arizona has seen the second highest tuition increases in the nation, he added.

Allen asked attendees what their contributions would be. He asked if the system would continue as it has always functioned, or if it would move forward.

“Destiny belongs to those who seize it for themselves. We are only the victims we allow ourselves to be,” Allen said. “Through unification we can achieve greatness, through greatness we can write history. Bear down.”