Arizona state lawmakers believe college students should have pay an extra $2,000 each year, unless they play football.
An Arizona House committee voted mostly along party lines Wednesday to advance a GOP-backed bill requiring all students to pay at least $2,000 toward their tuition. Only student athletes would be automatically exempt from the increase.
The Eagle Valley Tribune reports schools could offer scholarships covering the $2,000 to no more than 5 percent of students based on academic merit. Currently, military veterans would not be exempt from the new requirement to pay $2,000.
The original issue that sparked Republican ire took place last year, when Arizona State University President Michael Crow said that nearly half of ASU students were paying no tuition at all, due to scholarships, grants or other financial aid. Republicans contend the new legislation encourages students to have "skin in the game."
Christine Thompson, lobbyist for the Arizona Board of Regents, said that figure was an anomaly. Thompson said last year that figure was 36 percent of students who paid no tuition, and preliminary reports to the Regents show this year it's closer to 24 percent. The Regents are opposing the $2,000 increase.
State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, said $2,000 wasn't really that much and insisted students could graduate 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," Kavanagh said.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, a Democrat, shot back in the hearing, "A new car is vastly different than a university education."
Arizona does rank on the low end of average student debt, compared to the rest of the country. The average student graduated in 2010 with $18,454 of debt, according to the Project on Student Debt. A more recent, separate report put the average student debt at graduation at $21,158.
Arizona's constitution requires higher education to be nearly as free as possible.
"I'm very concerned that we're asking students to further mortgage their futures," state Rep. Lela Alston, D-Phoenix, said.
When students testified that they have more to pay for than just tuition, state Rep. Michelle Ugenti, R-Scottsdale, told them, "Welcome to life."
"I don't understand why that should affect a modest $2,000 for your education," Ugenti added. "We all are thrust into circumstances and unpredictable life experiences."
The bill was advanced narrowly by a 7-6 vote, with two Republicans joining Democrats in opposition.