The Arizona Desert Lamp

Last tango in Phoenix?

Posted in Campus, Politics by Connor Mendenhall on 26 September 2008

The steps in UA’s annual tuition tango are nothing new. Arizona’s university presidents take the lead, publishing vague auguries about their proposed tuition adjustments increases. Students tease back with an agile amague, requesting a limited tuition increase or a full freeze, and make an indignant plea to state legislators to spend more on higher education. The presidents reply with a parada, tossing out an upper-bound estimate that lies somewhere on the thin line between grudgingly acceptable and outrageous. Then the Board of Regents turns on the lights, shuts up the accordion player, and sets tuition wherever the hell it wants. But this year, things are different, and the dancing may be gone for good. From the Arizona Daily Star:

Tuition for in-state residents attending the University of Arizona could rise by up to $726 next year — pushing the annual bill to more than $6,000 — under proposed guidelines the regents will consider this week.

While members of the Arizona Board of Regents are not scheduled to approve tuition for the state’s three public universities until later this year, they will meet in Flagstaff this week to consider setting upper and lower limits on tuition by giving institutions three price points from which to choose.

At the high end of the proposal, undergraduate UA residents would see their tuition increase by $726. The mid- range increase would raise tuition by nearly $450, while the low end would increase tuition by almost $170, according to figures prepared for the Board of Regents.

A couple paragraphs later, Regent Ernest Calderón explains the idea behind pre-emptive pricing:

The change, which is being tested for the first time this year, is part of a larger initiative aimed at addressing how tuition is set annually. By putting out potential tuition increases early in the process, the regents are taking the lead as opposed to waiting for others to come up with figures, said Regent Ernest Calderón, vice president of the board.

“What we’re trying to do is signal to the presidents what we believe would be a reasonable range, so they can then put together a thoughtful proposal,” Calderón said.

It’s all part of an effort to “end annual arbitration between students and universities” (read: exclude students), described by Regent Gary Stuart in the Wildcat earlier this year. In fact, in an exceptional example of doublethink from the same article, the tuition task force (dedicated, mind you, to eliminating student tuition proposals!) was described by our own student body president as “a phenomenal opportunity for students to become truly involved in the tuition setting process.” Under the new revisions—Regents dictate three choices, presidents accept one, students will more than likely be ignored—it looks like they’ve hit on a process as inclusive and welcoming as ever.

Prices—yes, Virginia, even for public education—ought to change in response to input costs, demand, and other market pressures, just like any other good. But if they must be set by bureaucrats like the Regents, students ought to demand more arbitration, not less.

[Ed. note: I know absolutely nothing about tango—I lifted all those funny words straight from Wikipedia ]

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