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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Work study proposed to keep grads in Arizona

    PHOENIX – A bill written in direct response to shrinking federal financial aid passed the House last week, 40 to 17.

    HB 2626 would take $5 million from the state’s general fund and match those dollars with contributions from private companies to offer a unique $10 million work-study program for college students in Arizona.

    The bill’s chief sponsor, Rep. Bill Konopnicki, R-Safford, said he began working on legislation last year after becoming disgusted with the growing costs of higher education being paid for with student loans rather than student aid.

    He said the average amount of debt for student finishing their undergraduate education in Arizona was $19,200.

    Konopnicki said many students choose to leave Arizona after their graduation to take higher-paying jobs on the East Coast to pay off their student debt.

    As there are more higher-paying jobs outside of the state, he said the exodus of highly educated students to other states only serves to hamper economic growth in Arizona.

    Without a highly educated workforce, he said, companies will seek to use Arizona for its cheap labor force and locate its higher paying jobs in other states where there is a better-trained and highly educated workforce.

    Konopnicki partnered with several legislators to seek a consensus from the local business community and to study measures used in other states to help alleviate student debt.

    Konopnicki modeled his bill after one that comes from Washington State, which has spent $17 million to offer a work-study program to its students in an effort to keep students in the state after graduation.

    He said his program follows Washington’s model, partnering with the private sector to pair students with companies in the their chosen field of study.

    Konopnicki said the Washington program was a resounding success, and students were placed in various companies across the state, “”not just Boeing and Microsoft.””

    He said he didn’t want the program to target a few select industries, even if there was a strong market for them in the state. He said while programs like nursing might be important to Arizona right now, a targeted program for nursing might take a few years to build its work force, but the program also serves to preclude students not interested in nursing or other targeted programs.

    “”We wanted everybody to have a shot,”” he said.

    The largest obstacle to getting the bill passed, Konopnicki said, is to get the legislature to fund the bill. He said the bill has strong support in both houses and is likely to be approved in the Senate, but it will have to vie for funding in “”the box.””

    The Safford lawmaker describes “”the box”” as a theoretical place where every approved bill that has some kind of cost attached to it will have to vie for its funding.

    He said the legislature will have somewhere between $150 and 450 million in “”the box”” for bills, but was unsure how his bill will stack up against other measures.

    Examples of other measures in “”the box”” include income and property tax cuts, increases in state’s health care programs and the expansion of all-day kindergarten.

    Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, a co-sponsor of the legislation said students have to get involved if the bill is to be funded.

    At a meeting two weeks ago with members of the Arizona Students’ Association, Downing asked the students to lobby their members of the legislature to approve the bill. He said without students pushing for the measure at the local level across the state, the bill is likely to die.

    Erin Hertzog, the Associated Students of the University of Arizona acting student body president, said the bill was a great opportunity for students to pay for their education as federal financial aid declines.

    “”The bill is a good use of student financial aid,”” Hertzog said.

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