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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Funds for the future

    Monday, Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano delivered her sixth annual “”State of the State”” address to a joint session of the state Legislature – and education was the topic she touched on first, offering a slew of possible policies that will affect Arizona students.

    The governor’s boldest proposal is a new “”Centennial Scholars”” program, designed to guarantee four free years of college at one of Arizona’s public universities to any Arizona high school student that graduates with a 3.0 GPA or above, performs community service and “”stays out of trouble.”” The idea of such a program is valiant, and challenging legislators to “”make a contract”” with students and implement it is a call to action that, at the very least, will get politicians and the public talking about education in Arizona. But it’s not the right solution for students, especially while Arizona faces a serious fiscal crisis.

    Consider this: according to the UA’s Office of Institutional Research and Planning Support, last year the average high school GPA of an incoming freshman student was 3.46. And according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a regular survey on student achievement conducted by the Department of Education, the average student’s high school GPA at graduation is about 2.98 nationwide. That means that under the Centennial Scholars program, more than half the students at the UA might be guaranteed a free four-year ride from the state government. That’s a massive and expensive mandate – even if legislators and taxpayers could be convinced to pay for it. Of course, those are the same legislators that stubbornly refuse to increase funding for Arizona’s public universities, and are currently considering creative ways to cut budgets even further.

    Although the notion of sponsoring students who will graduate years in the future is commendable, there are plenty of B-average students who “”stay out of trouble”” and are struggling to pay for college today, as tuition continues to rise. The state does not need to dole out money for an expensive new program paying for thousands of potential students – they just need to start adequately funding Arizona’s public universities. We may need to forge a contract with the students of tomorrow – but one is long overdue for the students of today.

    The governor’s second big idea is welcome news for students frustrated with rising tuition prices at the UA. In addition to paying the way for Centennial Scholars, Napolitano wants Arizona’s universities to freeze tuition rates during every student’s college career, beginning next year. That means freshmen would be offered one tuition price, guaranteed not to change over the course of their four years in college. “”Times change and tuition will rise,”” Napolitano said, “”but it shouldn’t go up once you’ve started your coursework.””

    Sounds like a good idea, but policymakers should tread carefully. Price controls always have unexpected effects and freezing tuition for some students, leaving fewer to shoulder the changing cost of education, could easily mean bigger tuition hikes for each successive freshman class. Stability would be guaranteed – but prices would keep climbing. In fact, under a partial freeze system, the funding whims of state legislators would be magnified in tuition prices. That’s not much of a solution.

    Fortunately, there’s an easy way to keep tuition rates steady and keep prices from skyrocketing. It’s a no-brainer: state legislators should chip in more for higher education in Arizona. Making Arizona’s public universities a fiscal priority would benefit both future students, and current students, and keep tuition prices stable. That’s the kind of solution that will keep the state of Arizona strong.

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