PHOENIX -- Students at Arizona's three state universities will have to pay -- or borrow -- at least $2,000 a year to get an education under terms of legislation approved by a House panel today.
Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said students should have some "skin in the game." He said students will take their schooling more seriously and be less likely to drop out if they have made an investment.
"I really believe that when something is given to you, you don't have the appreciation of having put in some work," agreed Rep. John Fillmore, R-Apache Junction.
He said $2,000 out of $9,000 annual tuition is not that big a deal. Even with books and fees, Kavanagh said that adds only another $1,500 a year.
Kavanagh said that would leave students with $14,000 debt after four years, "less than the cost of a Chevy Sonic."
"And I personally believe that degrees from our universities are worth far more than Chevy Sonics," he said.
Anyway, Kavanagh said that is a small amount, as college grads earning anywhere from $500,000 to $1 million more over their lifetimes than those who do not have a higher education.
The vote came despite objections from students who said there are expenses beyond tuition. Room and board aside, they said they are forced to pay for gasoline, insurance and parking.
"Welcome to life," Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, told the students.
"I don't understand why that should affect a modest $2,000 for your education," Ugenti continued. "We all are thrust into circumstances and unpredictable life experiences."
As approved by the Appropriations Committee, HB2675 does have some exceptions.
Student athletes would not have to come up with the $2,000. And scholarships awarded based solely on academic merit or some special ability could be used to cover that amount.
Kavanagh also promised to alter the measure when it goes to the full House to say that the requirement to pay at least $2,000 tuition would not apply to those who cannot live at home and have expenses for housing and meals. But he said those living at home should not get a free ride.
How many students would be affected remains unclear.
A study done by the Arizona Board of Regents for the 2009-10 school year found that 45 percent of students paid no tuition at all. The figure last year was 36 percent.
Christine Thompson, lobbyist for the Arizona Board of Regents, said the numbers appear to be "an anomaly." She said a preliminary report, at least for ASU, puts the current figure at about 24 percent.
Kavanagh said that comes out to close to 17,000 students in the university system.
Thompson also said the bill is based on a flawed assumption that students are getting a free ride with university dollars. She said what happens is a typical scholarship amounts to about $5,500, with the balance made up with a federal Pell grant.
Kavanagh's legislation would not recognize those grants toward the $2,000 since they are based on need rather than scholarship.
The Arizona Constitution does require higher education to be "as nearly free as possible." But the state Supreme Court refused to intercede in a tuition hike challenge in 2007, ruling that courts have no role in determining exactly what that means.
Robyn Nebrich, executive director of the Arizona Students Association, said about 60 percent of students borrowed money for school. A separate report by the regents puts average student debt at graduation at $21,158.
Kavanagh was not impressed.
"That's what a new car costs," he said.
"A new car is vastly different than a university education," shot back House Minority Leader Chad Campbell.
"A new car last six years," responded Kavanagh. "A university education lasts your whole life."
Several students testified about already having to work to cover those things not covered by any financial aid. Even students living at home, they said, have expenses, including the more than $700 a year it costs to park on the ASU main campus.
"Do you think you are entitled not to pay for that?" Ugenti asked Brianna Pantilone.
"I have no problem contributing to my education," Pantilone responded, citing her 45-plus hours a week working at Starbucks and the Arizona Students Association. But she said that, ideally, students should not have to do that.
"Education is a full-time thing," Pantilone said.
That left supporters of the bill cold.
Fillmore said he wanted to go to college in 1969 but did not have that opportunity.
"I had other responsibilities," he said, with a mother who died his senior year of high school and two younger sisters. "Every night when I got out of high school at 3 o'clock, I went to work in a rubber factory."
Ugenti said she paid for her own apartment, her car and her food, worked full time "and still having enough time in all of that, and with all of that responsibility, to play rugby for ASU."
Rep. Justin Olson, R-Mesa, said his backing of the measure has less to do with students making some financial contribution than to the ripple effect of university-provided financial aid.
"We're ignoring the fact that others are paying ... up to $9,000 because of that financial aid policy," he said. "That tuition directly subsidizes the financial aid for need-based scholarships."
He said any money the schools will no longer be allowed to give out in scholarships because of that $2,000 minimum tuition requirement should be used to cut tuition for everyone else.
While all of the votes for the measure were from Republicans, not all the Republicans on the committee were in support.
Rep. Steve Urie, R-Gilbert, said he and his wife have three children in college, one with a scholarship who is pursuing a chemical engineering degree. Urie said it would be unfair to now require him to come up with $2,000.
"He comes home at 3 o'clock in the morning after studying all day and being in class all day and doing labs," Urie said. "There is an awful lot of work that goes on into being an excellent student."