Board of Regents approves tuition hikes at state universities

This story appeared in the Daily Wildcat on May 5, 2015

PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents approved tuition hikes on Monday at the state’s three public universities for the next academic year, following sharp cuts in state funding.

Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, sits as the board discusses a proposed lower tuition rate for "dreamers" on Monday. The regents also voted to approve tuition hikes at the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

Mark Killian, chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, sits as the board discusses a proposed lower tuition rate for “dreamers” on Monday. The regents also voted to approve tuition hikes at the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University.

The regents approved the new tuition and fee structures for the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University that were proposed by their presidents last month. This ends a month-long tuition-setting process that included public hearings and workshops with university leaders.

UA President Ann Weaver Hart said the UA worked closely with student leaders in the Associated Students of the University of Arizona and the Graduate and Professional Student Council in coming to the tuition rates it presented to the board of regents, which governs the three state universities.

Under the plan approved on a 6-1 vote, the tuition rates will rise at the UA for incoming in-state students by 4.07 percent, or $446, and incoming out-of-state students by 10.91 percent, or $3,209.

Students under the guaranteed tuition program, which the UA adopted last year, will not see their tuition bill rise for the 2015-2016 academic year. For current students who did not opt into the guaranteed tuition program, rates will increase 2.75 percent for in-state and 5.8 percent for out-of-state.

Graduate students will see tuition rates increase by 2.77 percent for in-state and 5.8 percent for out-of-state. Also, certain master’s programs will be under the guaranteed tuition program, which now only applies to undergraduate students.

The lone dissenting vote on the UA’s proposal came from Regent Bill Ridenour, who said the rates should have been higher for out-of-state and international students.

Hart said student leaders agreed that the new rates adopted for non-Arizona students represented a “fair distribution of the burden of the cuts from the Legislature.”

The state Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey approved a $99 million — or about 13 percent — cut in state funding to Arizona’s universities in March, amounting to $53.3 million from ASU, $28.4 million from the UA and $17.3 million from NAU. The state has cut nearly 50 percent of its funding to higher education since the Great Recession.

Regents chairman Mark Killian said the regents need to do more to show the Legislature the value of universities to the state, or they could find themselves in the same position again next year.

“The losers are the institutions and the students,” Killian said. “Even with these increases in fees and tuition, we’re still going to have to let people go. We’re going to have to cut back on a lot of things. We’re still running deficits in many areas.”

He later said he had spoken with attorneys, who are researching whether the board of regents can pursue a lawsuit against the Legislature for its cuts to state universities that may violate the portion of the Arizona Constitution that mandates public education must be as close to free as possible.

Killian said he believed a cap at $5,000 a year for in-state students would be a fair tuition rate and comply with the constitutional provision.

Daniel Scarpinato, a spokesman for Ducey, referred to an Associated Press report when asked about the governor’s position on the tuition hikes.

Ducey told the AP that he opposes the increases brought to regents Monday, but he did not attend the board meeting. Ducey is a member of the board by virtue of his position as governor.

Killian attempted to add an amendment to ASU’s proposal for a one-time fee of $320 for in-state students to cover state cuts that would lower it to $200. The board voted down the amendment 6-2 with only Killian and Ridenour in support.

Hart said last week at another board of regents meeting that she did not believe a temporary surcharge like ASU’s plan would be right for the UA because there is no reason to believe state funding would be restored any time soon.

She added that this round of state cuts and tuition increases demonstrates that UA students should opt into the guaranteed tuition program if they haven’t already.

“It will save them tuition dollars right off the top,” Hart said.

Tuition rates for Dreamers

The regents also appeared supportive of a proposed lower tuition rate for so-called Dreamers, including those under President Barack Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA.

The proposal would enable those who came to the U.S. as children and graduated from an Arizona high school to opt to pay 150 percent of in-state tuition rates at state universities for the next academic year. This would amount to about a $17,100 tuition rate at the UA.

Students currently enrolled in state universities who would qualify under the standards set by regents could apply to get the new Dreamer tuition rate.

Regent LuAnn Leonard said this falls in line with the board’s mission to ensure access to education for Arizona students and has public support.

“I feel that this is the right thing to do at this moment,” Leonard said.

Currently, Dreamers have to pay out-of-state tuition rates to attend Arizona universities. Voters approved Proposition 300, a ballot measure in 2006 that prohibited the state from providing any assistance for tuition or in-state tuition to non-U.S. citizens or those who do not have a legal immigration status. Killian said he believed the proposed policy would be compliant under that law.

Ducey has not yet taken a position on the proposal, according to the AP.

When asked about her position on the proposal, Hart said she wants the board of regents to support all in-state students, including Dreamers.

“This is good for all of us,” Hart said. “I’m very interested in hearing the regents’ point of view on this particular proposal and see if they find that to meet their needs.”

The board of regents will formally take up a vote on the Dreamers tuition issue at its next meeting in June.

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