Students raise concerns over tuition increases

Students across the state voiced a mixture of concern and support for proposed tuition increases Monday night at an Arizona Board of Regents’ open tuition hearing.

Regents and student leaders were present at all four ASU campuses, as well as UA and NAU’s main and satellite campuses, to hear public comment, but they did not respond to testimony.

Video by Cale Ottens.

Video by Cale Ottens.

“We want to maximize the time we can spend listening to students,” ABOR Chairwoman Anne Mariucci said in explanation of why regents would not be taking questions.

The presidents of each student government at the three universities were given priority to speak first, but were limited to five minutes each, before moving to public comment. After their allotted time frame, student leaders were asked to refrain from further comment.

In response to Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposed cut of $170 million to the university system, ASU’s current proposal for tuition increases range from $1,198 to $1,775 per year, depending on class rank and residency.

ASU President Michael Crow said these increases would account for roughly 40 percent of the cuts. The remaining 60 percent would be absorbed through low-cost options, operating efficiencies and potential program consolidations.

ABOR will vote on tuition for all three universities during its monthly meeting next week on April 7 and 8.

One main concern raised during the hearing was from students who fear they will be forced to drop out next year if tuition and fees continue to increase.

Students from all three universities shared stories of thousands of dollars in loans. Some students said even with numerous scholarships and multiple jobs, it’s not enough to cover the cost of attendance.

Political science freshman Moriah Costa said she is currently on three ASU and state scholarships, receiving a federal Pell grant, earning money through work study, and has taken out thousands of dollars in student loans, but is still afraid she will not be able to return to ASU next year.

“I am not the only student in this situation,” she said. “There are hundreds of students that will not be able to come back tomorrow to get the knowledge they need to get jobs and to make jobs here in Arizona. I ask you to realize how drastically these increases will affect students.”

Justice studies senior Faith Alvarez told a similar story of herself and several of her peers who have worked part- or full-time throughout their time at ASU to pay for their education, and who are now in danger of being forced out by rising tuition costs.

“My tuition has doubled in the short amount of time that I have been here,” she said. “Many of us do what we can to go here and get an education. We’re willing to get a job, but … we only make so much money, and we cannot afford it. No matter how much we want it, we can’t do it.”

After listening to numerous student testimonies of hardships caused by the current economic crisis, ASU President Michael Crow said the University will do everything it can to keep students with challenging financial and family situations enrolled next year.

“Students need to know we’re dedicated to serving each individual,” he said. “They need to go to the financial aid office, because if their family situation has changed, their eligibility for financial aid changes as well.”

Although most students seem concerned over the proposed increases, members of all five of ASU’s student governments called the proposed increases “moderate” in light of the magnitude of the cuts the University is facing, and said they support Crow’s proposal.

In a letter read on behalf of the student government Presidents Council, which consists of the presidents from each of the four undergraduate student governments and the graduate student government, student leaders applauded Crow’s efforts to keep tuition low.

“We have effectively collaborated with ASU administration over the course of the current academic year … to ensure the lowest impact possible to students to replace the loss of stimulus funds and the upcoming cuts,” the letter stated. “The five presidents support President Crow and his efforts to maintain educational quality at ASU and accept the ASU tuition proposal for fiscal year 2012.”

Associated Students at ASU West President Daniel Hatch said the blame for the increases lies with the state Legislature.

“I’m very disappointed with the Legislature’s lack of support, particularly when they are giving tax breaks to private universities that offer less quality and affordability and to corporations,” he said.

Another aspect of ASU’s tuition proposal that received student support was the plan to extend the W. P. Carey School of Business’ special fee to underclassmen.

Currently, only juniors and seniors pay a differential tuition fee to cover the costs of special advising and career services. The proposal would require all students within the school to pay the fee.

Accountancy and finance junior Susan Eckman said she is in favor of the extension because underclassmen utilize and benefit from the services as well.

Eckman said she used the school’s career services as early as her freshman year and directly benefitted by receiving an internship typically given to upperclassmen.

“It’s ultimately why I am still here,” she said. “The W. P. Carey experience really is four years, not two, and that is why I am for expanding the fee to freshmen and sophomores.”

One final aspect of ASU’s proposal that was discussed was the privatization of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Tuition for law students would increase dramatically over the next few years, with the end goal of the school being financially independent from the rest of the University by 2017 and no longer receiving state funding.

First-year law student and ASU undergraduate alumnus Ed Hermes said he understands the need for tuition increases, but opposes the privatization of the school and that the school’s proposed differential tuition increase of $1,500 is too steep. This increase will be added on to the overall tuition increase of $1,200 for all in-state graduate students.

“[I] believe that is too big of a burden for ongoing students to bear,” he said. “We ask that you phase in the tuition increases as have been done with undergraduate tuition in the last few years.”

Crow said he was pleased to see students speak on behalf of the proposal.

“I think there was a lot of good input and a lot of different views,” he said.

Mariucci thanked all the students who took the time to attend and speak to the Board, and encouraged them to send their comments in written form over the course of the next week before the proposals are voted on.

“In all my years, this is probably the most difficult and painful tuition decision we have had to make,” she said. “I’m hearing a level of preparation and sophistication and analytical thought that is much appreciated and very much heard. I think it is taking us to another level of discourse that we haven’t seen in recent years.”

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