Editorial: Tough tuition questions

The University has dismantled programs, forced faculty to take furloughs, raised tuition an inordinate amount and laid-off employees — all over the course of two years.

Since we have entered this recession, there has been constant turmoil in higher education, particularly in Arizona. The results have not been pretty and shown the need for a reexamination of how our state university system operates.

On Thursday and Friday, the Arizona Board of Regents met at ASU to discuss just that. This year they must consider a new policy for setting tuition. The policy in place before 2009 required tuition to be at the top of the bottom one-third of rates set by all the other states in the nation. In the face of the recession, regents approved a two-year override to this policy, and massive tuition hikes followed.

While we are a bit apprehensive about the decision ABOR will make, we have reason to believe at least parts of the discussions are moving in the right direction.

ASU is considering lowering tuition at the West and Polytechnic campuses by 25 and 10 percent, respectively. This is not based on favoritism or a desire to attract more students to these campuses, but simply because the programs on these campus do not cost as much to run. This proposal outlines a concrete step taken by the University for making education more affordable for Arizona residents.

The ideas already in front of the Board are a little less clear. On Thursday and Friday the regents debated but did not vote on any tuition policies. University presidents and regents considered basing tuition on rates at similar institutions, but this was quickly shot down.

Unfortunately the good news stops there.

Regents also discussed the idea of extending the override passed in 2009, a cap on enrollment and the elimination of full-ride scholarships. “Sometimes, because of our duties, we have to ask questions that we don’t like to ask,” Regent Ernest Calderón said on Friday.

Do we have to face reality? Yes. The current tuition model is not working and deserves to be reexamined. But a new model should not come at the student’s expense. To solve this problem, the regents need to think outside the box.

A starting point could be more partnerships. ASU and the Mayo Clinic just announced that they will be working together and several new degrees will emerge as a result. This shows that good things can emerge when businesses work with universities.

Businesses have every incentive to do this as well. They will need more educated workers and students can only get degrees if they can afford it.

Since our state Legislature is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide education for “as nearly free as possible,” Arizona needs to rethink its approach to higher education.

We support the Board’s decision to revise the tuition policy. However, we don’t support many of the options on the table, as they would place an even bigger burden on students. The regents must, unlike state legislators, fulfill their duty to students.

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