Some Arizona lawmakers lashed out Thursday at the policy of state universities to take close to $1 out of every $7 of student tuition payments to provide financial aid for some.
Senate Majority Leader Thayer Verschoor, R-Gilbert, pointed out that tuition for Arizona residents has gone up an average 13 percent a year for the last five years prior to this one — including a 39-percent hike in one year alone. He said the policies essentially mean that tuition for those who do not qualify for financial aid is higher than it needs to be.
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, said that series of sharp hikes has had the net effect of pushing some students into the position of needing financial aid.
And Sen. Jake Flake, R-Snowflake, called the policies “the Robin Hood syndrome — take from the rich, give to the poor.”
The result could end up being a move by legislators to overrule the policy, set by the state Board of Regents, which requires the three state universities to divert at least 14 percent of all tuition receipts to financial aid.
But Greg Fahey, lobbyist for the University of Arizona, said that would be a mistake.
He acknowledged universities formerly set aside just 8 percent of tuition for financial aid, compared with the current 15 percent diversion at UA. That would translate to $713 on a base resident undergraduate tuition of $4,754.
But Anne Barton, a regents spokeswoman, said it isn’t that simple.
She said 14 percent of total tuition revenue — graduate, undergraduate, resident and nonresident — goes toward financial aid, not necessarily 14 percent of what each type of student is paying.
Rep. Pete Rios, D-Dudleyville, said if lawmakers want someone to blame they don’t have to look far.
He said the refusal of legislators to provide adequate state university funding has forced them to “get creative” to find ways to both pay their bills and provide enough financial aid to keep the schools available to all.
The issue arose Thursday because it turns out the three universities collected $56.4 million more in tuition and fees this school year than anticipated because of increased enrollments. That brought the universities to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee which must approve any plans to divide that money up.
Some of the money would go toward hiring additional faculty as well as other priorities. But the regents also want the joint committee’s permission to use $18.7 million of that for financial aid.
But committee members refused to approve the request — at least at this time — amid questions about who gets, and who pays, the money.
Rep. Russell Pearce, R-Mesa, said he fears students who put themselves through college by working might not qualify for financial aid, and could also have to pay more than they otherwise would to help someone who is not working.
Verschoor said that money helps not only with tuition but also room and board, perhaps even for students who otherwise could live at home with their parents.
Rios disagreed with Flake’s “Robin Hood” assessment of the policy. “The mission (of state universities) is to get as many students through our universities, get them educated, make productive citizens,” he said.