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Governor calls for fixed, free tuition statewide

Improving education: Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano waves to delegates at the Democratic National Convention on July 27, 2004.

PHOENIX — Gov. Janet Napolitano outlined plans for a more predictable and less expensive future for ASU students in Monday's State of the State address.

Napolitano made education her first "chapter" in the speech — outlining plans to double the number of bachelor's degrees turned out by Arizona colleges by 2020 and lock student tuitions from time of enrollment.

At the speech at the Arizona House of Representatives, Napolitano picked up a plan originally proposed by then-state Senator Dean Martin in 2005 to freeze tuition rates for students at Arizona universities.

If the plan is approved, students' tuitions will not jump for four years after entering college, she said.

"Times change, and tuition will rise, but it shouldn't go up once you've started your coursework," Napolitano said. "Call it a fixed-rate loan on the best investment we can make in Arizona's future — our children."

Martin, now the state's treasurer, said he was excited about the prospect of his plan being put into affect statewide.

"Good ideas shouldn't be partisan," Martin said. "I don't care who gets the credit for it. I care more about getting it done."

The original idea for fixed-rate tuition was given to him by a member of the Arizona Board of Regents, he said.

Martin said the bill he proposed passed the state Senate 26-3 in March of 2006.

It then passed a House committee, but was held and included in the state budget proposal for that year.

A "pilot plan" was put into effect at ASU, allowing incoming students to choose whether to pay market value for tuition or choose a fixed-rate plan but pay more for it at the outset.

"Essentially, the governor's proposal would take the pilot proposal and make it statewide," Martin said.

The plan must have been working well at ASU, he said, or the governor wouldn't have brought it up in her State of the State address.

"As a state, we have a constitutional mandate to make higher education as free as practicable," Martin said.

Martin said his years as an ASU student led him to want to make tuition affordable for everyone.

"This has been a passion of mine — of lowering costs for student tuition ever since I was a student at ASU," he said.

Virgil Renzulli, a University spokesman, said that although ASU applauds the governor for making education her number one priority, the fixed-rate tuition plan doesn't take into account inflation.

"[A tuition freeze] would make it difficult for us to continue making the progress we've made academically over the last few years," Renzulli said.

Undergraduate Student Government President Liz Simonhoff said that while she agreed that education should be a number one priority, the plan stresses predictability over affordability.

"It's a noble idea," the finance senior said, "but if we don't have the money to support that, it's going to come from other places," such as other University programs.

She added that ASU needs to produce a quality product, not just a large quantity of degrees.

Napolitano also proposed a plan called the "Centennial Scholars Program," which would guarantee free tuition to incoming students meeting certain qualifications at any community college or state university, starting in 2012.

Each incoming freshman would be eligible to receive free tuition by maintaining a B average or above, not using alcohol or illegal drugs, not participating in any illegal activity and completing at least 100 hours of community service in high school.

Arizona's "Centennial Class" of students, now eighth-graders, will graduate from high school in the state's 100th year of existence and will be the first students eligible for the proposed plan.

Martin said the Joint Legislative Budget Commission would have to do a fiscal analysis to see what the "Centennial Scholars" plan would cost taxpayers in the future.

"We're going to have to start setting aside money today," Martin said. "I don't want to put the state in a position where we promise eighth graders something, then we have to break that promise."

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