Arizona Board of Regents review, approve university budgets for upcoming year

The board examined the state's climate for higher education and highlighted areas for improvement

The Arizona Board of Regents reviewed policy and established goals for all three public universities during a meeting at Northern Arizona University's campus in Flagstaff on Thursday.

Eileen Klein, ABOR president, highlighted several key elements where the board has improved its performance in recent years, and discussed areas where the board can continue to make advances with the state's public universities.

Preparing students for the workforce

Klein said it is of the utmost importance for the three major public universities to prepare students for life after college. 

Graduates are going to be increasing in demand and will benefit from learning valuable skills and crafts in school, as well as their coursework, Klein said. 

"While we are able to deliver college grads ... we all know that there’s going to be an intense demand for those workers in the future," she said.

Klein also focused on transfer students from community colleges. She said the universities need to be acutely aware of those students' needs to properly prepare them for the future.

“If we want to drive more transfers … we need to have a better understanding of our community colleges,” Klein said. "We are looking at setting a goal for our state so that 60 percent of Arizonans have secondary education by 2030."

Innovation

The board, along with ASU President Michael Crow, focused heavily on innovation, referencing a 2015 study from U.S. News & World Report which ranked ASU No. 1 in the country for most innovative national universities.

Klein said ABOR's annual report, which will be released to the public before the start of the next school year, will showcase the innovative nature of Arizona's higher education. 

ABOR Vice Chair Greg Patterson said he believes Arizona universities are often written off on the national platform, despite their achievements. 

"Sometimes there’s not an appreciation for the quality of these institutions," Patterson said. "I think this is a really good way to really make sure we get that message out." 

Likewise, Crow praised the board for its teamwork with each of the state's universities. 

"There's the team aspects, and then there's the things that no one else can do," Crow said. "It (ABOR) is the singular leadership in the state for educational quality, period."

Although the annual report is usually a written document, Klein and her colleagues decided to make it an interactive web page this year and host it on the ABOR website to make it more accessible and digestible. 

Transparency

The board shared a notion of increasing transparency during the meeting.

“Transparency’s obviously incredibly important,” Klein said. “It’s one of the hallmarks of how we operate.”

Regent Ron Shoopman echoed Klein's sentiments and said ABOR will increase its transparency significantly once it releases its annual report later this year. 

Shoopman said he believes ABOR has always had room for improvement when it comes to being transparent, and said he is looking forward to seeing more transparency from the board. 

“Telling our story is not necessarily what we’ve done best,” he said. “I think the potential for us to build on that is terrific.” 

Finances

The second half of Thursday's meeting focused almost entirely on finances. 

Klein said Arizona students are in a unique situation, when compared to their national counterparts, because the state itself does not provide a large amount of financial aid. 

“We know that students are going to need more support,” Klein said. “In Arizona, when we say 'financial aid,' you really mean 'institutional aid.'”

She emphasized funding throughout the meeting and said Arizona has historically been a rough terrain for higher education. 

"We’ve had an unbelievable challenge in finances," she said. "The state is only funding about one quarter of a student’s cost at the universities."

Although universities in Arizona are a microcosm of higher education across the country, Klein said not all universities across the country can thrive as healthily as those in Arizona.

Klein said keeping student debt levels low is key to ensuring Arizona graduates have a successful future. 

“We want to make sure that student debt is not an overwhelming concern,” Klein said. “Many of our students do not have debt at all, and those that do have debt, it is far below the national average.”

What ABOR approved

Crow shifted gears farther into the future and discussed ASU's continuing plans with the city of Mesa to establish an ASU presence in the city's downtown. He said the model for the idea is akin to ASU's partnership with Phoenix, where the University utilizes spaces provided by the city. 

"There are not very many opportunities like this that come around where we have an opportunity to leap-frog to a world-class facility," Crow said. "We believe that we have the means, the mechanisms, the drive and the commitment to make this work."

Crow said the ever-lengthening light rail route would provide an effortless form of transportation for students to travel both to and from several of the University's campuses. 

The board members agreed with ASU's proposals for expansion into Mesa, but Regent Ram Krishna expressed frustration with how long the move to Mesa is taking.

It should be done as immediately as possible, he said. 

ABOR approved all of the proposed university budgets on Thursday. ASU has an additional $7 million to appropriate however the University sees fit, according to the budget. Although University officials will get to decide how to best spend the money, they did not specify where the sum will go. 

The board approved each university's capital development plans for the upcoming academic year. 

ASU also pitched a housing complex which would feature an assisted-living facility on Mill Avenue and University Drive, near the Tempe Campus. The assisted-living units would aid the elderly and those who require regular physical assistance. 

Morgan Olsen, chief financial officer, treasurer and executive vice president at ASU, said the model age range for such housing would fall between 50 and 70. 

The three universities will present further to ABOR at the final board meeting on Friday.


Reach the reporter at jwbowlin@asu.edu or follow @mrjoshuabowling on Twitter.

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