Arizona's Public Universities Plan All-Time High Tuition; Could Go Higher if Senate Has Its Way

Tuition increases proposed late last week by Arizona's three public university presidents make getting a public education in Arizona pricier than ever. Worse, they were probably underestimated -- again.

Presidents of the three universities sent their pitch for new tuition increases to the Arizona Board of Regents on Friday, in response to a $170 million cut in funding from the state in Governor Jan Brewer's January budget proposal.

While already creating a new level of poor-dom for students, the universities didn't exactly plan for the budget proposed by the state Senate, which calls for $235 million in cuts in the universities.

Among the newly proposed cuts would be the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, a program that has been providing financial aid to in-state undergraduates since 1989.

The Senate budget plan is still awaiting consideration in the state House, but the budget proposed by the Senate last Tuesday is causing a freak-out at ABOR.

In a statement from ABOR, Chairman Anne Mariucci says the Regents worked with Governor Brewer in the plan for the $170 million cut, creating a "very challenging but achievable" spending plan for 2012.

"Unfortunately, the early analysis of this new proposal suggests it ... would simply shift new cost burdens onto Arizona students and the families that support their growing demand for a quality university education," she says.

Now the universities' erstwhile optimism about impending budget cuts has gone out the window.

In February 2010, Arizona State University, the largest of the three state universities, proposed their two-year plan to combat the funding cuts, under ABOR's estimate of a $45 million slash for the 2011-2012 school year.

The tuition proposal submitted last week estimates that $78 million of Governor Brewer's proposed $170 million cut in public university funding would apply to ASU.

A statement from the University says the new tuition recommendation is merely a "modest adjustment" from the plan devised in 2010.

If the Senate has their way in slicing funding to the universities, the funding cuts for ASU would easily climb over $100 million -- possibly causing more than a "modest adjustment," as the worst-case scenario for A-State would bring a cut more than double what was expected just over a year ago.

Still, under the current proposal that would cut ASU's funding $78 million, tuition increases would replace more than $31 million of that, while the University claims it would absorb the remaining $47 million.

The U may think it's being generous by planning to cover over half the funding lost from the cuts, but that plan for the "modest adjustment" in tuition increases already includes the highest-ever at ASU, passing $9,000 for the first time in school history.

The early 2010 tuition increase planned for in-state freshman at ASU to pay $8,894, while Friday's proposal pushed that to $9,208.

In-state undergraduate tuition at ASU for current students varies by class standing and campus, as The State Press reports those students will be paying between $7,571 and $9,033.

Out-of-state tuition at ASU is projected to climb too, estimating an increase from around $22,000 to more than $23,800.

While ASU faces the brunt of the funding cuts as the state's largest university, the University of Arizona is passing on higher tuition costs to its students, proposing the perfect opportunity for more kids to take advantage of those interest rates on student loans.

UA proposes a $1,500 increase in undergraduate tuition, which after some nickel-and-diming, brings tuition to $10,027 for in-state undergrads on the main campus.

Out-of-state students for all programs and campuses at UA are planned at more than $25,000, according to the University.

Northern Arizona University, the state's smallest, plans to apply tuition increases to only 33 percent of its students.

Undergraduate tuition for in-state freshmen would come to just over $8,000, while out-of-state freshmen would be up $1,000 to $20,364.

Of course, all of those tuition estimates from the universities operate on the assumption that they'll be provided with the extra $65 million that the Senate hopes to cut -- and folks like ASU president Michael Crow aren't too happy with that.

In a statement from the University, Crow says under Brewer's proposal, the per-student funding rate would be as low as it was in 1967, while the 50-year graph Crow provides doesn't have a year with as little funding as next year would have under the Senate's proposal.

"The Senate's proposed budget cuts will not only set ASU back decades in terms of per-student state funding, but they will also set Arizona's economic recovery back years because ASU is one of the state's most important economic drivers," he says.

In a guest editorial in the Arizona Republic, Governor Brewer also defended her budget proposal over the Senate's recommendation, but kind of completely forgot to mention funding for the public universities.

Brewer noted how her budget cuts more than $1 billion, yet still "preserves core priorities such as K-12 education."

The governor gloats about her championship in passing Proposition 100, the sales-tax increase that she says was intended to cushion the blow to education -- K-12 education.

Brewer does say she doesn't support the additional $536 million in cuts proposed by the Senate, saying, "...cuts to schools, local governments and assistance to the needy that I believe are not in the best interest of Arizona," but doesn't make any specific mention to the state's financially strapped four-year institutions -- maybe because she's never been to one.

Nevertheless, ABOR will officially set tuition rates April 7 in Tucson.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley