The Arizona Board of Regents held a special meeting Monday to seek legal advice in response to Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich's lawsuit claiming that the board's tuition hikes were unconstitutional.
In a statement he penned Monday, ABOR chair Bill Ridenour said the lawsuit will allow the board to seek clarification on how best to provide education “as nearly free as possible,” but that he was disappointed in the way it was delivered.
“The AG’s lawsuit — while it makes for good headlines — does nothing to change the burden for students and their families,” the statement read. “The suit is full of attacks, but offers no constructive remedies.”
Brnovich’s complaint, filed on Sept. 8 in the Maricopa County Superior Court, said ABOR “dramatically and unconstitutionally increased the price of in-state tuition and mandatory fees at Arizona’s public universities by 315 to 370%.”
ABOR’s statement said the rising tuition costs were the result of post-recession state budget cuts to public universities which have “upended the traditional university financial model.”
But Brnovich rebutted that the public has a right to an explanation of rising tuition.
“Arizonans have the right to know the true cost of education at our state universities, and why tuition has been rising at such an alarming rate over the last 15 years,” Brnovich’s statement read. “This suit seeks more transparency and accountability to ensure that our universities are operating in the best interest of students and in full compliance with the law.”
The University directed all requests for comment to ABOR. In a March interview with The State Press, ASU President Michael Crow said the University's in-state tuition is calculated to be as free as possible, as is called for in the Arizona Constitution.
“For in-state students, we are running the institution under the assumption that we’re trying to make it as close to free as possible,” Crow said. “It’s the lowest possible tuition increase that allows us to continue to have forward movement.”
However, Crow said the University does not have a constitutional obligation to offer tuition prices that are considered as free as possible for out-of-state and international students and that those prices are partly market-based.
“We try to keep the out-of-state tuition at or below the 50th percentile of out-of-state tuitions of all universities,” he said. “Several schools are accelerating their tuition costs for international students, dramatically. We’re not doing that but it tells us that the market for international students can afford a little bit higher price.”
Brnovich’s complaint alleges that part of ABOR’s tuition-setting model bases costs on those of peer universities, which doesn’t comply with the constitutional mandate.
ABOR said in its statement that “massive defunding” is to blame for rising tuition. Crow said in March that the University’s tuition does not reflect the full extent of state budget cuts.
“We have had dramatic cuts from the state that are still not recovered,” Crow said. “So we’ve had $260 million cut from the base budget of the University in the last eight years … Those levels of loss would require tuition increases of 25 percent — and so we’re not proposing tuition increases of 25 percent.”
Brnovich’s complaint also took issue with ABOR’s practice of offering in-state tuition to students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, status. It said such practice could result in the loss of discounted in-state tuition for all students, who would then be charged out-of-state tuition.
Proposition 300, enacted in 2006, “prohibits provision of education subsidies to students who are not lawfully present residents of the United States.”
“The board knew the attorney general was being pressured regarding DACA students, but he has never registered his concerns about the board, its performance or that of the university system,” part of ABOR’s statement read.
Crow responded on Sept. 5 to President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind DACA by outlining a five-step plan that provides financial aid to impacted students and seeks collaboration with the federal government and international universities.