Arizona university students aren't exactly happy to pay more tuition, but during a public meeting with the Board of Regents last evening, many said they support proposed price increases in the name of maintaining quality amid deep cuts to state funding.
"It's not students' fault and it's not the administration's fault that the state chose to divest in our education," said Isaac Ortega, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona. "But now we have to find a way to share the pain."
Presidents at the University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University have proposed about a 4 percent bump in tuition for resident undergraduate students. At U of A, which lost $28.5 million in the state's latest budget deal, that brings charges up $446 to $11,403. Students at NAU will pay $10,358 to offset the loss of $17.3 million in taxpayer support.
Arizona State University President Michael Crow plans to keep in-state tuition flat at $10,157, but charge students a one-time $321 fee to help fill in the $53 million gap the Legislature carved out of the budget. The institution is trying to keep tuition and fees as "low as possible," he said. "Even with these adjustments," in-state tuition prices "are highly value oriented."
All plans increased costs for out-of-state students by between 4 and 15 percent.
Few of the dozens of students who took the microphone during the forum complained about the presidents' proposals, but many had sharp words for the Legislature.
"It's detrimental for the state not to support students," said Adam Goldsmith, a student at ASU. "We should be increasing support for our students so they can support our society."
No state has cut its higher education spending more since the recession than Arizona. After slashing per-student spending by 48 percent between 2008 and 2014, the legislature this year sliced off an additional $99 million.
Meanwhile, the average tuition and fee prices at Arizona public four-year universities more than doubled from $4,078 in 2004 to $10,398 in 2014, according to The College Board. Just in the past five years, state universities have hiked tuition 43 percent -- more than all but two other states.
"It's not like students are getting more for their money," said Sandy Baum, a senior research fellow at the Urban Institute who specializes in college funding. Rather, the rising price tag represents a shift from "publicly funded education to private."
"There are a lot of people who can afford to pay more tuition," Baum said. But, for the rest, pushing the cost burden from the taxpayers to families means more debt.
In 2013, 55 percent of Arizona college graduates borrowed money, according to the Institute for College Access & Success, a nonprofit. On average, they took out $22,253 in student loans.
ASU senior Jamie Wong is "lucky," she said, that her parents are able to support her while she pursues her degree. But the family is still suffering as a result of tuition and fee hikes in recent years: her parents don't have money to save for retirement.
"I'm worried," she said. "I have to think there is another way we can save money."
A number of students also pleaded with the Board of Regents to offer in-state tuition to undocumented immigrants who qualify for President Barack Obama's Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.
Arizona voters in 2006 approved a ballot measure prohibiting anyone without lawful immigration status from accessing a taxpayer-subsidized university education. Now, undocumented students must pay out-of-state tuition, but the board is considering a proposal to allow them to pay 150 percent of in-state tuition.
"I graduated from elementary, middle, and high school in Tucson," said Ana Rodrigues, a 22-year-old undocumented immigrant. "I work in Arizona. I pay taxes. I'm asking you all to see me as a member of the community."
The Arizona Board of Regents will finalize tuition and fees May 4.
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