Veterans told they don’t have enough “skin in the game” to deserve minimum tuition exemption

College athletes have earned their way into college, but veterans have not. Those aren’t my words but rather the sentiment of House Republicans such as John Kavanagh who refused to give military vets an exemption to the minimum tuition bill that recently made its way out of committee.

Mr. Kavanagh said, “I’m a veteran and I don’t think I should get free university tuition. Some veterans are extremely wealthy adults.”

Seriously? Has Mr. Kavanagh met the men and women coming home from Afghanistan lately? Does he really think these individuals are wealthy?

Many of our recent vets, those lucky enough not to return in a body bag, have other, serious medical and emotional conditions. Telling them they don’t have enough “skin the game” to be considered worthy of a free education is an unbelievable slap in the face. Many of them left more than just a little skin on the streets of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Though outraged by the lack of respect for our veterans, I cannot say I’m surprised. This state’s Tea Party Republicans have been attacking public safety workers for the past couple of years, referring to them as lazy and overpaid. As I stated in previous articles, it isn’t much of a stretch to go from attacking first responders to attacking military members. These men and women are cut from the same cloth, serve similar roles in society, and when one is devalued, the other isn’t far behind.

But beyond veterans, this bill does harm to other groups as well. Though I wrote in length about the details of this bill in a previous article, one thing I did not address and many in the media have failed to address, is that many academic scholars are exempt as well.

As currently written, only five percent of college enrollees are allowed to use academic scholarships toward the tuition minimum; however, there is no limit placed on the number of athletic scholarships that can be used to cover this cost. In other words, athletes have earned their way toward a free ride while many academic scholars have not.

What kind of a message does this send to students? We’re talking about higher education, with the emphasis on education. Shouldn’t the focus be academics?

But the real losers in this deal are the low-income students who receive need-based aid. Universities have long given the most amount of aid to those who can least afford a higher education. This is an attempt to allow these students a chance to obtain a degree, earn a better living, and contribute more (both in talent and taxes) to society.

But Republican legislators don’t see it that way. They argue these kids are doing just fine and can simply take out more loans to cover the increased costs. How do they know this? Well, as Mr. Kavanagh has pointed out, he’s driven through the parking lots at ASU and witnessed first-hand the number of expensive cars parked there.

Of course, many of the students who will be adversely affected by this bill do not own those expensive cars. Many of them do not own a car at all and if they do, cannot afford to pay upwards of $600 per year to park on campus. These students use alternate transportation.

But now we’re getting to the heart of the matter. If this bill was about getting rid of financial aid abuses, it would address who receives need-based aid instead of simply wiping that from consideration. Instead, this bill targets those students who can least afford college and who already have the most amount of “skin in the game.”

This bill doesn’t hurt those students who already receive a free education because their parents pay for it; it doesn’t hurt the students who drive expensive cars. Instead, it targets those who are already on their own and uses generalities about an entire student body to try and make a point.

Mr. Kavanagh likes to point out that 48 percent of ASU’s students did not pay any tuition in the 2009-2010 school year. This was a figure Dr. Michael Crow, ASU’s President used in testimony before the legislature last year. However, during this week’s committee testimony, Christine Thompson from the Arizona Board of Regents said that that figure was an anomaly and a result of the state’s severe recession. This past year the amount was closer to 25 percent.

But that doesn’t seem to matter. Nor does it seem to matter that many low-income students will be forced to forgo a college degree, or that athletes are valued over academic scholars. Is this the type of education system we want in our state?

The ones without skin in the game are not our veterans or our low-income students but rather our legislators, those who continue to make decisions that adversely affect others but not themselves.

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