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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Legislature gives $8.2M to private colleges

    PHOENIX – A House committee passed a bill yesterday that would create an $8.2 million scholarship program to help students pursuing a bachelor’s degree in Arizona pay for their tuition.

    The amount offered to students could be a drop in the bucket, however, as the program is restricted to private colleges and universities in Arizona, where tuition at one institution is listed at $35,000.

    The program was introduced as an amendment by Rep. Laura Knaperek, R-Tempe, who added her strike-everything amendment to SB 1446 in the Universities, Community Colleges and Technology Committee that she chairs.

    The amendment drew heavy fire from Rep. Ted Downing, D-Tucson, who said the bill “”was very bad public policy”” to give vouchers for private colleges to students while Arizona ranks 46th in the country for state contributions to public higher education.

    According to the Arizona Board of Regents Web site, there are 90,669 undergrads attending Arizona’s three major universities.

    April Osborn, the Executive Director of the Arizona Commission for Postsecondary Education, said the vouchers could be used for roughly 36 private colleges and universities in Arizona. She estimated the total combined attendance for the colleges was 42,000 students.

    Downing criticized the bill as a “”half-baked idea”” that would give $2,000 a year on a first-come, first-served basis rather than awarding the scholarships on financial need or academic merit.

    “”A millionaire can walk away with $2,000 in their pocket if they’ll fill out a form,”” Downing said.

    Downing also criticized the amendment, saying the state contribution to university students was pathetic.

    Rep. Steve Tully, R-Phoenix, a member of the committee and the House majority leader, said Downing was wrong and that the state gives “”billions and billions”” in state aid to the universities.

    Next year, the Republican legislature initially set aside $394 million to give to the UA.

    The UA’s lobbyist, Greg Fahey, said the UA was neutral on Knaperek’s amendment. He said the universities were unopposed to the scholarships for private colleges as long as funding them did not compete in the state budget with programs favored by the universities.

    Fahey mentioned two bills that would increase student financial aid to universities: SB 1133, which would triple the amount the state contributes to the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, and SB 1323, which create a new $5 million program for financial aid to students in public universities.

    But the author of SB 1133, Sen. Toni Hellon, R-Tucson, said her bill to increase the state contribution to AFAT is dead for this legislative session. She blamed the death of the bill on the chairman for Senate Appropriations, Sen. Bob Burns, R-Peoria. Burns refused to give the bill a hearing in his committee.

    High-profile institutions where students could use the scholarships include: Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Art Institute of Phoenix, Grand Canyon University, DeVry University and University of Phoenix.

    But vague language in the bill stating vouchers could be used at any “”baccalaureate program at a national or regionally accredited private postsecondary educational institution in this state that awards four-year baccalaureate degrees”” will allow students at smaller, lesser-known colleges to apply for the voucher.

    Those eligible institutions include: American Indian College of the Assemblies of God, Scottsdale Culinary Institute, University of St. Francis and Wayland Baptist University.

    Don Isaacson, representing Independent Colleges and Universities of Arizona and the University of Phoenix, said he is pleased that the state is willing to commit funding toward the 50,000 students seeking baccalaureateÿdegrees at private colleges and universities here in Arizona.

    Isaacson, who was not involved in writing the bill, said another program offering funding for private colleges, the Private Financial Aid Trust, is “”extremely successful.”” He said PFAT recipients have a 90 percent graduation rate, and 80 percent of the recipients were minorities.

    The PFAT program Arizona currently offers students who have graduated from an Arizona community college and are pursuing a bachelor’s degree at a private college a $1,500-per-year scholarship.

    Isaacson said the program, which gives priority to students with demonstrable financial need, can only serve so many students with its $180,000 budget.

    When asked to choose between the PFAT and the voucher program, Isaacson refused to answer, saying, “”I would hate to have to pick one or the other.””

    As the amendment does not cap administrative costs or have a budget for promotion of the scholarship, it is unclear how many students will be served if the $8.2 million program is approved.

    Downing suggested the program would serve less than 10 percent of the students taking classes at private colleges, but Knaperek said Downing’s assertion was unfair. She said the number was larger than Downing’s, as some students in the program would be taking classes part-time.

    Chris Dang, UA representative for the Arizona Students’ Association, an independent lobbying advocate for university students, said he had concerns that funding might go toward SB 1446 rather than for students at state-sponsored universities.

    Dang said efforts by lawmakers to offer vouchers for private institutions like the University of Phoenix were misguided.

    “”It is a fundamental misuse of state dollars to subsidize private education,”” said Dang. “”The public as a whole does not have a responsibility to fund students in a private college.””

    Dang said he was concerned that SB 1133 did not get a hearing, saying the bill died for other reasons than its own merit.

    “”Politics are getting in the way of just getting a fair hearing,”” Dang said.

    The bill is expected to be heard next by the House Appropriation Committee.

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