State Representative John Kavanagh (R-Fountain Hills) is an ex-cop from a working class background who earned a PhD at a public university and teaches at a community college. This should be considered in light of his recent comments attacking financial aid for allowing “too many” Arizonans to attend our state’s universities.
I am not going to pretend that I know exactly what programs Kavanagh may or may not have benefited from during what must have been a remarkable academic career. Though I served with him for two years, I really know little about his story. Suffice it to say, I made many Republican friends while I was at the capitol and he was not one of them.
However, during my college career, I knew many people from backgrounds very similar to Kavanagh’s. Most of them were helped directly by financial aid in one way or another. More importantly they were helped by the fact that the college experience is very different than it was in previous decades because legislation like the GI Bill (the brainchild of Arizona’s own Senator Ernest “Mac” McFarland) and the Higher Education Act of 1965 made college accessible to more people. As a result, colleges have been forced over the years to accommodate so-called “non-traditional students,” including working people, older students and students with families by altering their schedules, loosening stuffy traditions, and providing services on campus for a population with different and diverse needs. The once-elite experience of college has been democratized, and financial aid has been a big part of this.
Kavanagh points out, correctly, that there are people who should not be in college. He is right. Not everyone is college material, and there are plenty of students who do not take their education seriously. However, his rhetoric implies that he believes that academic merit has something to do with one’s ability to pay. This is insulting bunk, and we can all think of mediocre students who were able to attend elite colleges based solely on their family’s reputation and money. There were plenty of undeserving students in college before the era of financial aid, and there will still be without it. The problem is that too many talented students will be unable to go to college without it.
But more than this, financial aid has been integral to the general opening of the college experience to folks beyond the sons and daughters of wealth and privilege. Without it, campuses would be less diverse and eventually less welcoming to students from different backgrounds, including working class transit cops.
Kavanagh speaks of a halcyon time when only deserving people attended college. What he ignores is that in his perfect world he would probably not have been considered one of them.