Written by Alison Steinbach, Arizona Republic
PHOENIX (AP) – Thousands of Arizona high school students can now get college tuition free thanks to a new statewide scholarship program.
The Arizona Promise Program will provide scholarships to qualified low-income students to cover tuition and fees in full if they attend one of the three state universities – Arizona State University, University of Arizona, or Northern Arizona University.
The goal is to make higher education more accessible to students from low-income families, a necessary step for a strong future economy in the state.
The Arizona legislature approved the new program earlier this year.
“Universities have for years been getting a lot of financial aid, but what we’ve done here is pass a state law that requires it,” said John Arnold, executive director of the Arizona Board of Governors, which oversees the grant.
“So it’s not a decision, there’s not a pool of money, it’s not first-come-first-served — it’s state law that if you do your part, you’ll graduate high school, meet college entry requirements, if you as a low-income family, you go tuition-free. Or graphics, “I think it’s a really strong message,” Arnold added.
Last year, only 28% of Arizona’s public high school graduates were enrolled in a four-year college, and the rate was lower even for low-income students, according to an analysis from the Board of Trustees.
At the current pace, only 17% of current ninth graders in Arizona will have a four-year degree by 2029, far less than the expected proportion of jobs that require this level of education.
The scholarship will cover all eligible students who enroll in a public university. Students who meet the qualifications will automatically receive funding through their university.
An estimated 3,800 students currently enrolled at the three campuses are expected to be eligible and funded for the program this spring, according to data from the Board of Trustees.
The overall world of high school students in Arizona is unclear, but last year about 12,400 Arizona students who filled out an application for Free Federal Student Aid are financially eligible, according to the board.
It is possible that more students are eligible for the Promise program but have not filled out the financial aid form in anticipation of applying to college.
State lawmakers funded the program with an initial $7.5 million this year, and the board is pressing for more than $30 million for the next cycle. But regardless of state benefits, all eligible students will receive funding.
Many states and cities already have promising programs – locally, for example, Mesa has a free education program for students of Mesa Community College.
The hope is that this state scholarship will help increase the relatively low level of college completion in Arizona and also motivate high school students to be college ready and graduate so that they can access tuition free.
“They are messages that go down to eighth, ninth and tenth grade for students and their families who are making long-term decisions about their academic lives, even if you are a very low-income person, you can get into college, that way is available to you, our state wants you to go to college, and we want you to go to college,” Arnold said. This promise is for you.”
Who Is Eligible For Free College?
Eligible students receive a guarantee that their tuition and fees will be covered, according to the board. The scholarship fills any gaps for students in tuition and fees after they have been awarded a Pell Grant and any other assistance they may receive.
“That’s a promise. If you meet all of these criteria, you will get the scholarship,” Arnold said.
Scholarships begin next spring for eligible students who are already registered. The board of directors and three universities are working on plans to market it across the state to show more eligible students the program and prepare to enroll next fall.
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