Here are a couple breaking news items for your Monday: The state of Arizona is broke. College is expensive. If you keep making an investment that doesn’t yield a solid return on that investment, you should probably reconsider whether it’s a good investment.
Alarming everyone with a Facebook this weekend was an article from the East Valley Tribune bearing the headline, “HB 2675 may up college costs by $2K for many in Arizona.” House Bill 2675 [pdf] is a piece of legislation introduced by Representative Kavanagh of Fountain Hills that, among other changes, proposes that each in-state student contributes at least $2,000 of non-university money to his or her education per year.
Though this site has been critical of Kavanagh before and there are obviously some tensions in his proposal, the Tribune headline is wildly misleading. This bill would not dictate that tuition go up $2,000 per year (though it nearly has before, and few were so indignant). This bill, if passed without amendment, would dictate that at least $2,000 per year of each student’s full tuition came from a source other than the state of Arizona. This excepts cases of academic and athletic scholarship.
Those especially incensed by this legislation argue that it robs students who qualify for financial aid but not academic scholarships the ability to get a completely debt-free degree. However, prudent voters ought to take a look at the assumptions that precede this argument. The Tribune article lists that nearly 50% of ASU undergraduates do not pay a dime in tuition. Pair this figure with the fact that only 28% of ASU undergraduates earn a degree in four years. Less than three-quarters earn a degree in six years, the last interval for which the school reports graduation rates.
The $2,000 stipulated in Kavanagh’s proposal could be covered by any non-university funding, so federal funding would apply here. Anyone who didn’t qualify for university academic aid that had genuine financial need would certainly qualify for Pell grants, other federal aid programs, or private scholarships. Kavanagh’s argument that at least $2,000 should come from somewhere other than a flailing, failing state is far from radical — indeed, when so few student supported by state money fail to ever graduate, it might even be a conversation in the direction of better, more effective higher education.
Even if a student somehow could not cover the $2,000 Kavanagh stipulates here with federal and other non-university aid, $8,000 is an absurdly low cost of a college degree. Detractors of this bill say it’s heinous to burden students with $8,000 “when the alternative is coming out with zero debt.” But let one fact be very clear here: just because the state provides degrees at zero cost to students does not mean the degrees actually cost nothing. Far, far from it. This bill would only increase a theoretical student’s tuition by $2,000 per year if he 1) did not qualify for academic scholarship, 2) did not qualify for any federal or private aid, and 3) is currently attending school absolutely free of charge.
The state can’t afford to keep giving out free degrees, especially not to a student populace of which only a third graduate in four years. Rep Kavanagh isn’t just unpopular today for proposing students contribute in a meaningful financial way to their degrees. He’s also unpopular for reminding the bright-eyed idealists in higher education that there ain’t no such thing as free college.