/ Modified feb 15, 2024 6:17 p.m.

UAGC tuition changes spark student concerns and confusion

Students at UAGC express frustration over sudden tuition grant changes, leaving some uncertain about affording education.

student working generic hero A student works at a computer.

Some students at the University of Arizona Global Campus were caught off guard after the online school changed the terms of its Full Tuition Grant. Students enrolled in the program will now be responsible for course fees costing them upwards of $1,200 a semester.

The Full Tuition Grant program is “intended to help (working professionals) avoid educational loan debt by funding direct education-related costs” in partnership with corporate partners. But with the changes, that promise may not be the case anymore.

A UAGC spokesperson told AZPM the move to reduce tuition rates and modify grant and tuition benefits was meant to improve cost equity for a UAGC degree regardless of a student’s funding source.

“This will allow students to compare tuition across institutions and better plan for their cost of education,” the spokesperson said. “In some cases, students will see a reduction in the cost per credit, and in others, students will now be responsible for books and/or fee charges while still maintaining a lower catalog tuition rate.”

Before any changes, tuition per undergraduate credit hour was $510. Now it will be $460. Masters students will also see a 10% decrease per credit from $665 to $600 and doctoral students will experience a 25% reduction per credit from $1,082 to $812.

“These changes improve our alignment with the University of Arizona’s goals, create better equity across our student population, and simplify our messaging to accurately inform students about the real cost of their education,” the UAGC spokesperson said.

The changes mean students enrolled in the Full Tuition Grant Program will now be able to apply for federal student aid to cover costs that are not covered by their agreement. Before they were not allowed to utilize both. However, if a student were to apply for federal aid, they will not find UAGC as an option. Instead, they will find the name Ashford University–UAGC’s former name before UA moved to purchase the school from Zovio.

UAGC student Josh Murdock said he had no idea that he needed to use UAGC’s old name on the Free Application for Federal Student Aid application until he couldn’t find UAGC as a listed school.

“This will be confusing for students who try to apply for financial aid,” Murdock said. “Even if they can get it and get it in time, they might be applying for the wrong school, because UA is an option. So they'll be like, ‘oh, sweet, I'll just apply for UA.’ But since the schools are separate, it's going to be a complete mess.”

Murdock was leaning on UAGC’s promise to pay for direct education-related costs for up to 10 undergraduate courses during a period of up to 12 months. For him, all of these changes feel like a broken promise.

“Ideally, they would just reevaluate completely and not be putting this burden on students who couldn't afford it to begin with, which is why they're part of the program,” Murdock said. “At the very least, honoring the agreement of the 12 months would be ideal, but we know that nothing's going to happen. The companies are tied and the students have no power to fight this.”

With student loans he is still paying off from when he got his associate’s degree, Murdock never thought he would have been able to afford his bachelor’s degree.

“My partner is chronically ill (and) we have a baby, our first child due in a couple months, so we knew I wasn't going to be able to get a bachelor's degree,” Murdock said.

However, when he discovered UAGC, he thought it was going to be the solution.

“This was going to be a lifeline for us,” Murdock said.

As the changes begin to take place, he will now be forced to wait and see if he will receive federal student aid.

“I’m just going to have to cross my fingers on that,” Murdock said. “I can’t really swing an additional $240 (per course) on top of rent and a baby.”

The reality is that UAGC can make these changes since the terms and conditions for the Corporate Full Tuition Grant program say “UAGC may modify (the) acknowledgement at any time in its sole discretion and UAGC will notify (students) of any such modifications in writing,” which they did. The changes were announced via an email sent to students on Monday, Feb. 5 saying the reduced rates will be effective Feb. 6 while the change of course fee responsibility takes place April 2.

However, even knowing the stipulation, that did not stop students like Murdock from feeling like UAGC is not being transparent, especially when the costs are split between corporate partners and the online university. Murdock said the reduction on the cost per credit feels like “it was really just a discount (UAGC) is giving themselves.”

Murdock emphasized that while he is frustrated, he intends to stay because this is one of the only ways he can earn a bachelor’s degree and having one will open more doors than not having one.

“A bachelor's degree is just a title. It's just a piece of paper. It doesn't necessarily prove that I can do the work,” Murdock said. “I know I can do the work and my company does too. But because of the way things are set up, businesses will pay you less if you don't have this piece of paper.”

AZPM asked UAGC if the changes are in any way related to the University of Arizona’s fiscal crisis. They said no.

“The tuition simplification process was initiated by the UAGC Executive Leadership Team in spring 2023, the Tuition Simplification Initiative stands as a proactive measure with a clear focus on making tuition more transparent and affordable for all students. The operations for implementing the initiative commenced in September 2023, marking a determined effort by UAGC to prioritize accessibility and affordability for its student community.”

AZPM also asked UAGC about how students should navigate the FAFSA application, since it is not listed on the website. A UAGC spokesperson said students should utilize financial services staff to select the appropriate federal school code (00188100) when completing their FAFSA application.

“The Ashford University name, which is associated with the federal school code, will remain in place until the Department of Education fully approves the UAGC and UA acquisition.”

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