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Tuition hikes spur more student loans

The Arizona Republic

The Arizona Republic

Students at Arizona’s three universities face rising tuition costs, with more of them taking out loans to meet the increased cost of college.

Arizona State University freshman Hosanna Sheeley, 19, scraped together enough money to cover her first year through a combination of the federal Pell Grant, an ASU scholarship, a private scholarship and student loans.

“I’m pretty much taking it year by year,” she said.

More students are finding themselves in similar situations: Even with federal grants, school scholarships and part-time jobs, they often need to take out loans to cover their costs.

Last school year, 53 percent of undergraduate students at Arizona’s three universities graduated with debt, up from 47 percent four years earlier. The average debt was around $17,500.

For graduate students, it’s even greater.

Four years ago, 36 percent of graduate students had accumulated debt by graduation day. That figure is now nearly 54 percent, with the average graduate student carrying nearly $34,300 in debt.

At the same time, tuition and fees have risen every year at the three state universities and are projected to cross the $6,000 threshold for the first time for the 2009-10 school year.

New, in-state undergraduate students could pay 11 percent more at ASU, or $6,257; nearly 13 percent more at the University of Arizona, or $6,257; and 14 percent more at Northern Arizona University, or $6,153.

The Arizona Board of Regents, which oversees the state universities, plans to vote on tuition at its Dec. 4 meeting.

University officials point out that current undergraduate students at ASU and NAU will get some relief. In exchange for a double-digit increase that went into effect this school year, ASU and NAU are proposing a more modest 5 percent increase at ASU and a 3 percent increase at NAU for in-state students who are already enrolled this year.

Officials say they recognize it’s tough to be a student in today’s economy.

ASU President Michael Crow sent an e-mail with a video link to students and faculty members Nov. 21, further explaining the rationale behind ASU’s proposed tuition increases and inviting students who were experiencing financial challenges to contact the university’s financial-aid advisers.

In recent years, all three state universities have funneled more money toward financial aid, which helps reduce the overall price tag that many students pay. In addition, Arizona universities are still well below the national average of $6,585 for public, four-year universities, according to the College Board, an association that tracks tuition costs nationwide.

The economic downturn also has meant cuts to university funding. The state trimmed funding for the schools by $50 million, or 3 percent, earlier this year, and more reductions are anticipated.

UA President Robert N. Shelton, at a recent tuition meeting, said it’s important to maintain quality.

“Given the choice between permanent cuts in academics or an increase in tuition, which students have financial options to offset, we choose the latter,” he said.

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