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Guest opinion

Reversing the dramatic decline in Arizona's grant aid for higher education

Now more than ever, increasing college attainment is a major priority for Arizona. Recently, more than 60 organizations from business, philanthropic, and education communities united to set the first-ever state attainment goal — 60 percent by 2030. This coalition, Achieve60AZ, was highlighted in Gov. Ducey’s State of the State address as an initiative he plans to support in 2017.

Ducey and organizations across the state recognize the benefits of increasing attainment in the state: not only will it help Arizona residents access greater economic opportunities — by enabling them to pursue the education they need to be employable — it will also benefit the overall economy of the state. Simply meeting the national average for college attainment, Arizona could add over $6 billion to the state economy each year.

But how do we get there? An essential component to raising our attainment rate is to increase access to postsecondary learning opportunities for low-income students. Only 29 percent of low income students in Arizona participated in postsecondary education in 2013, a rate that is nearly 27 percent lower than the national average. This is especially significant because low-income students represent a substantial, and growing, segment of Arizona’s population. As a result of a 13 percent increase since 2011, children and youth from low-income families now make up approximately 50 percent of the student population.

Alarmingly, as the number of children from low-income families in Arizona has increased, so too have the financial barriers that can prevent them from enrolling and staying in college.

Since 2008, tuition is up 88 percent at Arizona universities and the available state-funded, need-based aid has diminished significantly. In 2013-14, the average amount of need-base grant aid provided by the state per full-time undergraduate student was less than $50 in Arizona; the national average that year was $500. Additionally, overall funding for higher education in Arizona is down 56 percent and the state provides zero funding for the some of the largest community colleges.

Because of this, we’re relying almost exclusively on higher education institutions and the federal government to provide the financial support that low income students need to enroll in and complete a college-level program of study.

One of the most effective ways that Arizona can address the financial barriers that obstruct low income students — while also increasing enrollment and completion, and alleviating the financial strain on universities and colleges — is by offering more robust state-sponsored grant aid. Strong, well-resourced need-based state grant aid programs can help to make college affordable, raise awareness of college options and sources of funding, and promote college completion. College Success Arizona’s newest policy brief provides state leaders, legislators, and policymakers with information essential to understanding how state grant aid increases college participation and drives attainment.

We have a great opportunity to expand the opportunities available in our children and youth from low-income families. Helping them attend college is more than just a good thing to do—and it is a good thing to do—it is also a smart investment in our state that will be paid back many times over. Achieve60AZ and Gov. Ducey have seen what the future can hold; it is time for Arizona to come together as one to make this vision a reality.

Rich Nickel is CEO of College Success Arizona.

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1 comment on this story

Jan 26, 2017, 11:50 am
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Increasing college enrolment for the working class in the current atmosphere of skyrocketing tuition is simply going to leave more working class families with unpayable lifelong debts. Sadly, this is moving a mountain with a teaspoon.

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