PHOENIX — An Arizona college student group announced Tuesday the launch of a grassroots campaign to put an initiative on the 2022 ballot seeking to lower the cost for undergraduate resident students to attend the state’s public universities.

The Arizona Students' Association in press conferences at Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University unveiled “The As Nearly Free As Possible Act,” which would require the state to pay at least 50% of the actual cost of tuition and fees for undergraduate resident students attending the state’s three public universities.

The act would also lock in tuition rates for all undergraduate students at Arizona public universities for four consecutive years following the student’s initial enrollment and require any boost in tuition and fees to be limited to increases in the prior year’s cost of living increase.

If the state does not pay at least 50% of the cost of tuition and fees, the act would mandate a two percentage point surcharge be added to Arizona’s corporate income tax, according to a press release.

The group is basing the student-led grassroots movement on a section in the Arizona Constitution which states university instruction and all other state educational institutions shall “be as nearly free as possible.”

In order to qualify for the 2022 ballot, the campaign must collect more than 287,000 signatures by July 7, 2022.

The average undergraduate base tuition and mandatory fees in 2020-21 for a new resident student at the state’s three public universities was $11,968, according to the Arizona Board of Regents, up from $8,010 in 2010-11.

"Now more than ever, Arizona students are being priced out of a higher education,” Shayna Stevens, campaign manager for As Nearly Free As Possible, said in the release. “As a nation, we are dealing with the largest decline in college enrollment in a decade.

“In fear of crippling student loan debt, students are deciding not to go to college due to high tuition rates & fees."

Base tuition and mandatory fees at the state’s universities have not increased since 2019-20, including hikes being frozen again for the 2021-22 school year, but the group says students saw no reduction when essentially paying for services they never received while adapting to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID has impacted families and students across the state and educating students in Arizona will only make students more innovative when needed most, let's work smarter not harder,” Cesar Aguilar, executive director of Arizona Students' Association, said in the release.

“Arizona's economy is growing rapidly and by investing in Arizona's students we will be able to fill the skilled labor job market.”

Nationwide including the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, Arizona ranks No. 24 with an average borrower debt of $35,454, according to educationdata.org.