On February 25, three University of Arizona graduate students—Kyle Blessinger, Zach Brooks, and Sarah Ann Meggison—had a meeting with Kelli Ward, a Republican state senator in Arizona. They were there to lobby against massive new cuts to state spending on higher education; the number being thrown around was $75 million. Under the state constitution, attending the university is supposed to be as “nearly free as possible,” but due to state budget cuts, tuition had increased more than 70 percent between 2008 and 2013 for in-state students—the severest hike in the country. Now it was poised to go up even more, while funds for graduate instructors were likely to be squeezed even further.
Blessinger, a 28-year-old Air Force veteran, was particularly concerned. He’d used up his GI benefits for his undergraduate education, and with a year left before he finishes his MA in higher education, he already carries $65,000 in student debt. In the past, he had worked as a teaching assistant in two classes, which earned him a tuition waiver—but this semester, because of budget cuts, the school could only afford to give him one. To make ends meet, he was working as a bartender and freelancing as a private security guard, occasionally at parties thrown by affluent undergraduates.
“I don’t think veterans should necessarily have to work two or three jobs just to be able to afford to live while we’re going to school,” Blessinger says. “I don’t have time to study. Some days, it’s quite tough.”
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