It is time to follow the Arizona State Constitution and make University and College Education as “Free as Possible.”


Article 11 of the State Constitution of Arizona deals with public education. Section six concerns higher education at the state’s public universities. It states “instruction” at state universities “shall (not should) be as free as possible.”

Well, according to a new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Arizona “Public Servants” (Republicans) in the Governors Office and State Legislature have failed in their constitutional responsibilities in ensuring tuition to our state universities is as free as possible.

Since the Great Recession, Arizona has the dubious dishonor of leading the nation in cutting aid to its state’s universities by 55 percent.

This has caused universities, according to the report, to raise tuition by 92.4 percent per student.

Consider that the maximum Pell Grant allotment a qualifying instate or out of state student can receive during the 2019/20 school year is $6,195.00

Then consider that the annual in-state cost (including tuition, books and supplies, fees, room and board, and miscellaneous expenses) to attend:

  • Arizona State University as an undergraduate is $27,530.00.
  • The University of Arizona as an undergraduate is $28,277.00.
  • Northern Arizona University as an undergraduate is $26,923.00.

Even if students decide to attend a state university close to their parent’s home, the students would have to pay approximately $15,000.00 to cover their 2019/20 undergraduate education expenses.

Even if they can qualify for the maximum Pell Grant allotment of $6,195.00, they would have to find an additional $9,000.00


It only gets worse for students if they wish to attend out of state schools or pursue postgraduate degrees. Out of state tuition is generally more expensive at most universities and graduate programs are generally more expensive depending on the university.

Pell Grants are also not available for graduate programs.

The only beneficiaries of this abdication of constitutional responsibilities by the Republican state legislators and the Governor are the student loan companies who are able to issue loans with interest to needy students that need to find monies to cover the difference in their education expenses.

Republicans have allowed the moneyed interests of the Plutocratic one percent to create a racket with a student loan system that exploits the neediest among us.

This situation is just as unconscionable as the failure to fully fund K-12 education.

Arizona Progressive and Democratic activists have been quick to criticize the Governor and mainly conservative legislators inattention to the plight of the state’s college students.

David Lujan, the head of the Arizona Center for Economic Progress commented that:

“In Arizona, we spend more from the state’s general fund to incarcerate people than we do to fund our three public universities combined.  Arizona’s workforce and economy is not sustainable if we do not start making education a higher priority.”

“Arizona can increase the skills and diversity of its workforce and dramatically improve the future of its children and communities by providing more assistance to make college affordable for low-income students. A well-educated workforce is essential to the state’s efforts to attract top companies that pay high salaries.”

 Matt Grodsky, the Communications Director for the Arizona Democratic Party, remarked that:

“Republicans have gutted Arizona’s education system and as a result, serious issues persist. Arizona has three world-class universities and a robust community college system. Arizona Democrats are committed to making sure more students gain access to a college education without the burden of crushing debt post-graduation. We need more Democrats like Superintendent Hoffman to lead our state through a revitalization of our education system.” 

 2018 Congressional Six Democratic Nominee and 2020 Candidate Anita Malik expressed on Facebook that:

“We have an Opportunity Divide in Arizona and throughout the country. It is expanding despite economic growth since the Recession because lawmakers prioritize industry.”

 “We can lower the cost of education and increase the quality & improve wages for sustainable economic equality if we shift priorities. People and opportunity first.”

 Democratic Congressional District Five Candidate and 2018 Nominee Joan Greene stated that:

“Quality education that prepares our young adults and people of all ages going back to school is no longer a luxury but a requirement if they are to succeed economically.”

 “I support The Democratic-controlled House plan to make college and vocational schools more affordable and schools more accountable for students’ success.”

 “This includes providing more grant aid and support services to students, which will include childcare during the time the student is in class.”

 “I would recommend lowering the interest rate on student loans to coincide with the CD interest rates is one idea and remove the origination loan fee.”

 “To be an economic and innovative Country, we must invest in our citizens now.”

Congressional District Eight Democratic Candidate Bob Musselwhite wrote that:

“Colleges and Universities were once affordable.  At one time it was possible for a student to work their way through school because costs were reasonable.”

 “We need to make costs reasonable again.” 

 “That would involve reducing costs for the education generated by the universities and then sending greater state support to state schools as we used to do to support the education that people need.”

 “I am opposed to over lending to students that places a burden on them that lasts for decades and delays their full enjoyment of their efforts and forces them to take jobs that are less than satisfying in order to pay their loans.”

“Once it was possible for an individual who wanted to work to get an education.  I see no reason why we cannot create that situation again.”

 The other Democrat running for the nomination in Congressional District Eight, Michael Muscato, offered:

“Arizona leads the nation in many things: sunshine, private prisons, and cuts to public education just to name a few. Arizona teachers haven’t been paid at the national average in 50 years, bonds and overrides continue to be needed to fund public schools, our community colleges have been hung out to dry, and yet tuition rates continue to soar at our Universities. Our young talent keeps leaving for places that can:”

1) “Provide incomes that pay off their debt.”

2) “Provide their family and children with an environment geared towards future success.”

 “Arizona has been failing our children, our young adults, and our small businesses for decades. Look no further as to why my opponent Debbie Lesko, the voucher queen herself.”

 “Here is what I would do to make college more affordable …..”

  • “Once in Congress, I will introduce a bill that will allow anyone who has attended any level of post-secondary education, including trade schools, to apply a percentage of their student debt as a 100% deduction on their federal taxes. The percentage will be equal to the amount of federal tax owed by the student during that calendar year. For example, if a student owed $25,000 in federal taxes and had $100,000 in student loan debt, that student could use up to $25,000 in federal tax deduction credit for that year. This deduction can be used until their total student loan principal has been paid off. The program does not forgive the debt, it simply motivates people to attend college and allows them to keep more of their money early in their career when every dollar helps.”
  • “I will also support making community college tuition costs and trade school costs subsidized through connections with local businesses and labor unions as part of a job-training program. These programs are already happening around the country and they are very successful. Our Arizona high school graduates can receive an education and a paycheck all while moving forward with their career paths.”

 “The most important decision we can make as Arizonan’s regarding education is making sure Debbie Lesko isn’t the member of Congress putting in the vote. Our hometown, our education, and our future are always worth fighting for.”

 Democratic State Senate Legislative District 11 Candidate Linda Patterson commented that:

“It is time to invest in our state and one priority must be in education. Currently, of the 2.4 billion spent on financial aid (loans, grants, scholarships, work-study), less than one-half of one percent comes from state appropriations. Worse, there is no aid for students to attend community colleges or for career readiness. (”

 “For AZ residents to become competitive in the workforce, earning a credential or other college degree is necessary. (College Success Arizona underscores this reality in a series of policy summaries.) However, more and more students are locked out of post-high school opportunities or become burdened with debt that controls them throughout their lives.”

 “I believe there are solutions to this dilemma and it comes from future investment from our state so that our state economy can reap the benefits of a capable workforce. A proposal our state can pursue to address the problems associated with the lack of educational funding includes:” 

  • “….Addressing the need for a statewide financial aid program that prioritizes low income, high need Arizonans. A new state program of granting funds for need-based financial aid can help increase higher rates of a stable workforce that ensures that more residents have the opportunities they deserve.” 
  • “Continuation of the pilot “AZ Learn to Earn” program that provides matching funds for students who save money for college and attend financial training with their families.”
  •   “ Encourage Arizona companies who have reaped billions of dollars in tax cuts to invest back into the residents of the state by funding educational grants, developing workplace training opportunities and giving back to our state.”

 “Investing in PreK through college certification programs in Arizona is an extremely sound direction for our state to pursue permanently.   It will provide us with a strong economy from which our state can gain living wages and steady growth and prosperity throughout Arizona. By working together, Arizonans can create a bountiful future for future generations in our state.”

 Legislative District 21 Democratic House Candidate Kathy Knecht wrote that:

“I will work with all policy-makers who seek to reduce tuition costs for students and families.  I embrace the collaborative, non-partisan goal of Achieve60AZ:  “60% of Arizona adults, ages 25 to 64, will hold a postsecondary credential or degree by 2060.” We should recognize that the high cost of tuition is a nationwide problem and we can look to other states for creative and efficient solutions to reducing tuition costs.  By the same token, Arizona has cut more from colleges and universities than any other state, ignoring the mandate in the Arizona Constitution to keep tuition for higher ed as “free as possible.”  We must make higher education more accessible and affordable to all Arizonans, to ensure that 1) Young people have equal opportunity to learn and prepare for life and work 2) Our state’s economy will benefit from a well-educated, competitive workforce, and 3) Arizona taxpayers get a high return on the investment they’ve made into the k-12 education of our young people.”

In addition to the views articulated by the above local activists, the Democratic Presidential Candidates have presented several ideas on addressing the high costs of college. These have included:

  • Expanding the Pell Grant Program.
  • Making University Education debt-free.
  • Making Community College (including two-year career and apprenticeship programs) free.
  • Forgiving all or refinancing portions of student debt.

It is time for everyone to create a college system that puts students, not moneyed interests first.

It is time for Republicans, along with Democrats, to adopt policies that will create a better tomorrow for everyone, not a larger profit margin for the one percent today.

It is time to follow the Arizona State Constitution and make university and college education as free as possible.


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  1. Thanks John. So, you are halfway there in your post on the average cost of tuition and fees. It is over $4k a year. I also don’t expect students to not have any living expenses. Having a son in a state school, I was fortunate that he was able to get all A’s and B’s so we are only paying about $15k a year.
    The kid needs to pull himself up by his bootstraps. My next question would be why did you vote to remove the minimum wage on all people 22 and under?
    We should add this to our debate topics. I think our constituents would enjoy the substantive discussion.

    • So you think paying $4,000 per year tuition for a degree from a research university is too much for students who will earn far more than non-college degree taxpayers paying to subsidize it? Is that your position?

        • Hi John!
          I had asked you something and was expecting an answer (“My next question would be why did you vote to remove the minimum wage on all people 22 and under?”) I asked because it goes directly to an important issue. You seem to think that college is extremely affordable here in Arizona and I completely disagree. I spent the weekend canvassing and I have to say that there were quite a few people complaining. And when they learn that you funnel more money to incarceration than higher education? They get angry.
          My son is one of those kids that gets tuition covered due to his excellent grades. But, the room and board works out to roughly $15k a year. I don’t want him working full time while going to school full time. And then you went ahead and voted in violation of the AZ Constitution, and the advice of House counsel I might add, to reduce the voter-mandated minimum wage for those 22 and under. Thank goodness the Senate had sense and it went down. Now he can get a part time position and help out with the cost of his degree.
          I am happy to answer your question and hope you will afford an answer for mine. Yes, I believe higher education in AZ is much too expensive. More than half of those graduating do so with debt and the average owed is $23k.
          You’ve been serving since 2008 and the state has been going in the wrong direction for higher ed…well all education. Here is a one page synopsis of your time. Please tell me why you voted to slash the minimum wage for our young folks?

    • I appreciate the link but from what I have read it still shows students left out of getting assistance and student loans, in addition to grants and other scholarship, as one of the options for students to pursue. Take care.

  2. Only very well-off Arizona undergrads pay the sticker price. In fact, almost half pay nothing and the rest pay an average of about $2,000 per year. That’s after all scholarship money is distributed, including a large amount of need-based aid. The main source of the need-based aid comes from the very high tuition charged to out-of-state and foreign students.

    Seems like half paying zip and the other half paying about $2k tuition to attend a research university with a good rep (ASU) or NAU or UofA meets the definition of as near free as possible. Kind of funny, of the half that pay, on average they pay what I paid at NYU in the late 60s. Smoking deal!!!!!!!

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