Published Online: November 16, 2009

Tucson Students Won't Get Promised Scholarships

A nonprofit organization that guaranteed college scholarships for 23 Tucson fifth-graders in 2005 has now reneged on that promise — citing the recession and rising tuition rates.

Arizona Quest for Kids said it would pay four years of tuition equivalent to the cost charged by Arizona's three public universities. The students were told they needed to have a 3.0 cumulative grade-point average upon graduating from high school, participate in enrichment programs and meet with a mentor weekly for the next seven years.

But on Wednesday, the nonprofit group told the five remaining students that it no longer could provide the funds and it would instead offer assistance to find scholarships from other sources.

"It makes me really mad and sad and frustrated," said Ileanna Arispuro, a junior at Pueblo Magnet High School. "They promised us the scholarship, and now they say they'll help us fill our applications?"

Patti Courtney, the mother of another 16-year-old student, has retained a lawyer in the case.

"We signed a legal contract with them and it did not say that if the money was lost that the scholarships would not be honored," Courtney said. "This is not right."

David Highmark, the founder of the Quest program, said a combination of factors led to the nonprofit's inability to fund the scholarships.

First, the cost of college tuition has increased significantly from when the Quest program began in Phoenix in 2000. In-state tuition this year is $6,842 at the University of Arizona, $6,840 at Arizona State University and $6,627 at Northern Arizona University. In 2000, it was $2,344 at all three universities.

"We had dollars available that we thought — based on estimates — would be good through 2014," Highmark said. "But the increase in tuition has outpaced the increase in inflation."

The recession is the second factor, according to Highmark.

"Like most foundations, we gave money to the Arizona Community Foundation, and they have the money pretty conservatively invested," he said. "But still we lost 25 to 30 percent of our principal due to the market."

Now, Quest will guide students through the federal student-aid process to obtain grants that do not have to be paid back and to find other scholarships.

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