An organization is working on a proposal to cap in-state tuition rates at Arizona's universities.
The group, Save Our Students, is hoping to gather enough signatures to get the proposal on 2016 ballots.
"A large number of students get priced out for every increase there is," Save Our Students president Matthew Capalby tells New Times. "The Legislature and unforuntely now the governor seem to ignore . . . the Arizona Constitution that says higher education needs to be 'as nearly free as possible.'"
Capalby is a former vice chairman of the Arizona Democratic Party, and has held state government jobs and done government-affairs consulting.
The idea of the proposal, which hasn't yet been finalized, is to cap in-state tuition rates where they are, and only allow increases to keep pace with inflation.
During the recession, Arizona had the largest per-student cuts to higher education in the nation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.
At the same time, tuition for in-state students at the four-year universities went up 80 percent -- the highest rate in the nation.
Those numbers don't take into account the most recent state budget, which includes a $100 million funding cut to the state's universities.
"Unfortunately for every cut to higher education, they make it up by raising tuition rates," Capalby says.
He says higher education is now "creating an economic trap" for people who want to further their education, and end up buried in debt.
For example, Capalby says he's spoken to a Flaggstaff couple that's been out of college for four years, have a combined annual income of more than $100,000, and have excellent credit.
"They're not going to qualifying to buy a home for eight to 10 years because their income-to-debt ratio is that bad," he says.
Capalby's group commissioned a poll earlier this month from Public Policy Polling, which found that 69 percent of the Arizona voters they polled support such a measure. The response was generally the same among Democrats, Republicans, and independents.
There is one significant catch to what Save Our Students is proposing right now, and that is allowing the cap to be lifted in the case of further budget cuts.
"We don't want to put the universities and community colleges in a vice," Capalby says.
The idea is that the cap would discourage lawmakers from approving such budget cuts by holding them directly responsible for raising the tuition cap.
Recall that during the governor's race last year, Doug Ducey attacked Democratic candidate Fred DuVal for the tuition increases, as DuVal was on the Arizona Board of Regents. DuVal argued that the Republican-led Legislature truly was responsible, given the drastic funding cuts from the state during that time.
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This cap would make it a little more clear who's to blame in the event of tuition increases. As noted, the initiative language hasn't been finalized, so the exact details aren't set and signatures aren't being collected at this point.
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