Student voices rise as financial aid falls

Brandon Toussaint, customer service representative for the Office of Student Financial Aid, helps a student obtain the correct paperwork for the upcoming school year.

Brandon Toussaint, customer service representative for the Office of Student Financial Aid, helps a student obtain the correct paperwork for the upcoming school year.

Nathan Olivarez-Giles

Many state university students are facing an uncertain academic future as a result of low funding for the state’s only university financial aid program.

“”Because of financial aid cuts I won’t be able to afford tuition and I can’t afford not to work,”” said Adam Schuman, a secondary education sophomore. “”If I didn’t live in my three friends apartment, rent-free, I wouldn’t be able to get by.””

Schuman said that despite financial aid cuts he is attending summer courses thanks to a loan his parents qualified for, but even that will be gone in a year because his parents are getting divorced.

“”Paying for a college degree is hard and it’s getting harder for a lot of students,”” Schuman said.

Three hundred hours of specific work in education, communication and management are required for his major and will be hard to come by if he is forced to work to pay tuition, Schuman said.

“”To even receive my degree I need these extracurricular opportunities,”” Schuman said. “”If I’m spending my time working at Century Theatres or Target, that’s time I can’t put towards the work experience I need for my degree.””

Schuman is just one of the many students who has been suffering the consequences of the funding cuts to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, the only state funded program giving money to financial aid for the state’s public universities.

“”Last year there were 38,000 students who were in need of financial aid,”” said Matthew Boepple, director of the Arizona Students Association. “”Only about 3,000 of those students got financial aid.””

The national average for state appropriated funds for financial aid for public universities is $100 million a year, while currently Arizona appropriates only $2.8 million a year, Boepple said.

“”Arizona isn’t even close to the national average,”” Boepple said.

AFAT was established in 1989 from Arizona Revised Statute 15-642 as two accounts, one supplying financial aid to students in immediate need and another to create a permanent endowment for future student financial aid needs.

Each account receives half of the funds generated by three revenue sources: state monies as determined by the state budget each year, money from a surcharge that every university student pays and interest accrued from the endowment each year.

Students attending a university and taking seven credit hours or more pay a surcharge that totals to 1 percent of their tuition.

Meanwhile, students taking six credits or less only have to pay half of what full-time students do or half a percent of their registration costs.

While university tuition costs have risen across the state, the money put into AFAT by the state has been on a steady decline, Boepple said.

“”AFAT was designed so that the state Legislature would match the money put in by students on a dollar for dollar ratio,”” Boepple said. “”But since 2002 the state has contributed less and less. Last year the state put in about 47 cents for every dollar we put in.””

Currently the budget proposals by the state House of Representatives and the state Senate contain no increase in funding for AFAT, Boepple said.

Gov. Janet Napolitano’s proposed budget does however include an increase in funding for AFAT of $6.9 million dollars, said Serena Unrein, the acting executive director for the Arizona Students Association.

“”As of right now both the state Senate and House budgets include a plan for a new program that would provide $7.7 million in financial aid funding exclusively for the states private universities,”” Unrein said.

If Gov. Napolitano’s $6.9 million dollar increase makes it into the final budget, it would equate to a ratio of about two state dollars for every student dollar contributed, Unrein said.

“”It’s certainly our hope that the state take care of our public universities,”” Unrein said. “”Students attending public universities definitely need the financial aid money much more then private university students do.””

The state decreased funding for AFAT in 2002 because the state was in a deficit at that time and needed to make budget cuts, Unrein added.

“”The state now has a surplus and it’s time to put money back into education,”” Unrein said.

Somewhere between now and July 1 a state budget will be passed that will hopefully have the $6.9 million for AFAT, said Greg Fahey, the associate vice president for government relations at UA.

“”I think we have a good chance of seeing an increase for AFAT,”” Fahey said. “”Students can continue to put out the word through phone calls and e-mails to the Legislature and to the public.””

An increase in AFAT has strong support from Tucson lawmakers, the Arizona Board of Regents and UA President Peter Likins, but Maricopa County is the big dog in this state, Fahey said.

Because of
financial aid cuts I won’t be able to afford tuition and I can’t afford not to work… I wouldn’t be able to get by.

– Adam Schuman, secondary education sophomore

“”The governor has been fully behind it this year, so I’m hoping we’re going to get it,”” Fahey said. “”We’re doing everything we can to get this through.””

Last Thursday ASUA President Erin Hertzog, ASUA Administrative Vice President Jami Reinsch, ASA Director Matthew Boepple and ASA voting drive director Matthew Ferguson visited the state capitol in Phoenix to lobby in favor of an increase in funding for AFAT, but many of the lawmakers weren’t there.

“”We were hoping it would have been a little bit better, but unfortunately the state senators decided to adjourn the day before, early for the weekend,”” Boepple said.

However, the student leaders met with Democrat Sen. Robert Cannell, and delivered letters to the missing senators and house members, Boepple said.

ASUA and ASA are focusing mainly on lobbying to moderate Republicans and lawmakers who are on the fence about education funding, and hopefully we can get them to support AFAT, Boepple said.

“”Senator Cannell helped give us some pointers on who to talk to and we were able to communicate how important AFAT is to students,”” Reinsch said.

A lot of senators have their priorities based on what they know, and as students, we have to let them know that we care for our education and financial aid, Reinsch said.

“”The main people that argue and complain to the legislature are old people who are annoyed or students who are just trying to be activists,”” Schuman said. “”If they saw more and more students speaking up they would realize that not only are these issues important to the student body, but that future voters are watching and they could lose their jobs if they neglect us.””

Students voicing their stances on issues important to them would not only make a positive change in terms of AFAT funding, but also will have residual effects on society as a whole, Schuman said.

“”In order for us to reach our future goals, as a society and as a state, we need to be moving forward – which can’t be done if we don’t properly fund education,”” Schuman said.