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To move the needle on attainment, Arizona must recalculate the shocking quotient to this equation

February 28th, 2017

By Rich Nickel, College Success Arizona’s President & CEO

College Success Arizona President and CEO, Rich Nickel

Recently, I spoke with Joanna Allhands, the digital editor at the Arizona Republic, about the sad state of need-based financial aid available for Arizona students, the massive economic upside produced by increasing attainment rates, and how our low-income students are paying (or not paying) for college today. She had read our College Success Arizona policy brief, Expanding Opportunity in Arizona: How State Grant Aid Increases College Participation and Drives Attainment, and had some questions. Two weeks later she wrote a column that posed a very simple question: Should Arizona help pay for your college degree?

Eventually, Ms. Allhands answered her own question, surmising that YES, Arizona should help pay for your college degree. We agree, especially if “you” are a financially needy student or part of our fast growing Latino population that must earn postsecondary certificates and degrees at much higher rates, if Arizona is to meet its goal of increasing the statewide attainment rate to 60% by 2030—the goal set by Achieve60AZ. Mathematically, the way for the state to reach this goal is to drastically raise attainment among this opportunity group over the next decade. It’s a math problem, not a demographic problem, as many would make it out to be.

Speaking of math problems—the quotient to this equation—explains much of what you need to know about the current political will to invest in this high potential opportunity group.

State Aid Awarded ÷ Total Aid Awarded = Percent of State Aid Investment

$1,900,000 ÷ $2,400,000,000 = .00079 (.08%)

The Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) reported that last year students attending Arizona public universities were awarded $2.39 billion in total financial aid, mostly federal grants and loans, and institutional aid. Most agree that closing the attainment gap among low-income and diverse students is the key to increasing the attainment rate, yet the state directly awarded only $1.9 million for need-based student financial aid. This equates to less than one-half of one percent of the total awarded across the system. Shocking!

Finally, many are surprised to find out that since academic year 2010 at our public universities:

  1. The total number of students enrolled is up 29%, while those receiving some form of financial aid increased almost 40%.
  2. The average need-based awards for undergraduates has increased 28%.
  3. The Net Cost of Attendance has increased more than 75%.

This means that students with financial need have outstripped those without need, and while the universities have done an admirable job at increasing need-based awards, it has not kept up with the net increases in cost of attendance. The bottom line is that the financial barriers to attending and completing are larger than ever for those that we need to pay the most attention to. After a deep exploration of this issue, let’s hope that our legislators and the public see things the way Ms. Allhands did in her concluding statement, “We need more cash. If there’s a better place than state coffers to get it, I’m all ears.”


Rich Nickel is the President and CEO of College Success Arizona

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