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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Attention lawmakers: We need a debt cure

    On Dec. 1 and Dec. 2, the Arizona Board of Regents met in the Student Union Memorial Center to discuss financial aid, a new football coach and football stadium expansion. Regents approved renovations to Arizona Stadium, approved new head football coach Rich Rodriguez’s contract — although they were upset that they didn’t play a bigger role in the hiring process. Most importantly they acknowledged the necessity for Arizona lawmakers to place higher education as the highest priority.

    It’s no secret that education costs are jumping higher and higher. Perhaps even more well known is that the economy is still in a slump. If you’re looking for financial aid, it would appear you’re in luck, because financial aid allotment jumped by over 75.4 percent over the last five years. Unfortunately though, that’s a deceptive statistic. A majority of that spike in financial aid is due to an increase in student loans.

    Larger tuition price tags combined with a struggling economy equals more of a financial hardship on college students. Thus they seek out financial aid, and sometimes have to settle for loans. But when the debt soars and the job market shrinks, it only leaves debt ridden unemployed scholars behind.

    Fortunately, the board recognizes this. The regents could have countered the cries of tuition hikes by saying that financial aid is on the rise, but the board was thorough in its 2011 financial aid report and acknowledged that just because financial aid is increasing doesn’t necessarily mean that the cost of education is being lessened.

    The board stated the need to have Arizona lawmakers appreciate the importance of fostering affordable higher education. In fact, Regent Dennis DeConcini was more direct, saying that education is an investment and that Arizona lawmakers need to treat it as such and not as an expense.

    The board also discussed the possibility of raising the requirements of full-time status to 15 credits in hopes of remedying the financial aid and student loan problems. At the UA, full-time status is considered 12 units. Unfortunately, this plan doesn’t seem to provide an actual solution when you consider that many students are already taking more than the minimum. According to Dan Anderson, the regents director of institutional analysis, the number of full-time equivalent students is greater than the overall headcount in the Arizona University system. Or, in other words, more students are taking on bigger loads.

    While it is promising that the regents recognize the issues with student debt and financial aid, there needs to be some sort of cohesive effort to see to it that the same epiphany occurs at the capitol. The regents should be aware of these realities because it’s their job. The problems with financial aid are so evident that anyone who pays even the slightest attention to education can recognize them. So why can’t Arizona lawmakers?

    Perhaps the problem is that they are in fact aware of the student struggles to pay the academic price tags, but the lawmakers just don’t care. But as several regents have expressed and as statistics show, education is truly an investment with the possibilities of big returns not only for students but for states.

    Anderson presented numbers that showed 80 percent of students who graduate from an Arizona university are employed, and they made an average of 80 percent more than their peers. That’s more people employed, at higher wages. This inevitably results in higher tax income for the state. As Anderson put it, “that sounds like a great way to raise taxes without raising taxes.” Perhaps an even better way to phrase it is: it increases tax revenue without even touching the tax rate.

    If Arizona lawmakers can recognize this reality, then perhaps education will become the top priority it deserves to be.

    — Storm Byrd is the Perspectives editor. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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