State’s Financial Aid System Needs Some Help of Its Own

September 11th, 2017

By: Maria Harper-Marinick, Eileen Klein, Rich Nickel and Vince Yanez

 

Arizona has some of the largest and most recognized universities and community colleges in the nation, and together, they fulfill a critical role in preparing our state’s future workforce.

Yet of the $2.4 billion spent on financial aid, nearly all is spent at the four-year college level. And less than one-half of 1 percent of that cash comes from state appropriations. The remainder is generated from within the institutions. Worse, there is no institutional aid program for students who choose to attend a community college or for career readiness.

This patchwork approach to financial aid in Arizona creates funding disparities among students and institutions. It also means that every new tuition increase has the potential to lock more students out of higher learning altogether.

While Arizona student debt is below average, it is climbing. Arizona lacks a state supported financial aid program – the kind that does not include loans – which results in students turning more to loans to finance their own education.

To be competitive in the workforce, earning a college degree or other credential is essential.

More than two-thirds of new jobs in Arizona will require some kind of postsecondary education, and thousands of baby boomers are set to retire.

With employers seeking skilled talented employees, students who earn a degree or work credential increase their opportunities for success in the workforce — and help our state continue its biggest period of economic growth in nearly a decade.

Recognizing the role education plays in a vibrant economy, leaders across Arizona have made a commitment to boost the educational attainment of Arizonans.

While low- and middle-income Arizonans have the ability to succeed in post-high school programs, many will not be able to pursue higher education without financial support.

Securing that financial aid will not happen, however, without a cogent state strategy. Without such a strategy, the number of students with financial need will only grow in the years to come, as one-fourth of all of Arizona’s youth, particularly minority youth, live in poverty.

During the past school year, 66 percent of aid at our public universities was awarded to address financial need among resident students. But existing sources simply are inadequate to meet the demand.

The connection among economic growth, an educated workforce and financial aid is underscored in a series of policy summaries by College Success Arizona.

Their most recent brief highlights the urgent need for a statewide financial aid program that prioritizes high-need Arizonans. A new state grant program for need-based financial aid can help increase higher education attainment rates, close the educational equity gaps created by poverty and ensure that more Arizonans have the opportunities they deserve.

At the same time, Arizona is piloting reforms to increase the effectiveness of aid programs.

The AZ Earn to Learn program provides matching funds for students who save a small amount for college and attend financial literacy training with their families.

The program’s initial results show great promise in encouraging college completion among low-income and minority students. The program’s emphasis on personal responsibility has made it a national model for aid programs.

Investing in higher education opportunities for Arizonans is an extremely sound strategy for the long-term success of our economy.

As leaders of organizations dedicated to student success, we are eager to work with our elected officials in the coming years to revamp the state’s financial aid program and target resources that will unlock the door to economic opportunity for all the residents of our great state.

 

Maria Harper-Marinick is chancellor of the Maricopa Community College District. Eileen Klein is president of the Arizona Board of Regents. Rich Nickel is President and CEO of College Success Arizona and Vince Yanez is senior vice president for Arizona Community Engagement of Helios Education Foundation. They’re the founding directors of Achieve60AZ.

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