The Arizona Desert Lamp


Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 5 January 2009

Today’s LA Times has a piece on the merits of out-of-state students. The debate is summed up nicely in two early quotes:

Some UC officials think that increasing the number of students like Chen would be a smart way for the university system to bring in more revenue at a time when the state budget is tight. They point to other state university systems that enroll much higher percentages of out-of-state students.

Opponents of the idea warn that it could squeeze out qualified California students.

“When we start chasing that money as a substitute for state money, that’s bad public policy,” said Lt. Gov. John Garamendi, a regent by virtue of his office who is also exploring a run for governor.

Notice the figures on each side. While university officials, who deal with the ins-and-outs of the university on a daily basis, see out-of-staters as a revenue boon, it takes a politician to put on the protectionist blinders. Those from California will appreciate the irony in Garamendi’s statement; after all, it was the governor’s office that proposed steep cuts in higher education spending in response to the state’s budget problems.

This isn’t, however, a cliched call for more state funding, a call that really is going to fall on deaf ears for at least several more years. What the UC system is doing here is great — looking for ways to fund their programs that aren’t dependent on state funding, a source of money that has proven to be capricious now that financial markets have taken a downturn.

Out-of-state students (LA Times)

The article also has a useful chart for comparison purposes, as seen on the left. The UC system, suffice to say, has a surprisingly low percentage of out-of-state students, especially considering the reputation of their flagship schools.

I’m almost certain that the chart of non-California schools is incomplete; a drop of 24% in out-of-state proportion from the 6th to the 7th schools seems highly unlikely. Yet at the same time, you have to wonder why the chart would include the top six schools, and then throw in UT-Austin and UF for good measure.

This higher proportion of the UA’s is good news, in the sense that it shows the UA is doing a good job in appealing to out-of-state students. Following in the footsteps of U. Michigan and U. Virginia is rarely a bad idea. Yet it’s also bad news, because it means that there’s not a lot of room for expansion on this front.

Yet there is some room. And in light of reports of incoming classes with lower scores than previous classes, increasing the proportion of out-of-state students is one of the quickest ways to not only to increase standards, but to also bring in extra revenue.

As for Arizona students? They will, so long as the UA exists, be the majority body on campus. There’s no chance that we’ll come anywhere close to U. Vermont’s bizarre proportion.

Yet I’ll go back to my least favorite Constitutional clause in history, the phrase that states university education should be “as nearly free as possible.” While this is poorly written, it is a sword that cuts both ways. Yes, it’s a useful rhetorical weapon for ASA when they choose to fight against tuition increases (which, it should be noted, they did not this year). But the clause says nothing about specific institutions, or programs; the clause does not guarantee a five-year UA undergraduate degree “as nearly free as possible,” nor the complete Northern Arizona experience “as nearly free as possible.” Last I checked, Pima CC is still pretty cheap in the scheme of things.

This also goes for admission. The entire Arizona higher education system should be geared towards providing for Arizona students. But it does not mean that any Arizona student is guaranteed a spot at the UA, or any specific university within the system. With ASU devoted to continually expanding and using sheer numbers to provide more opportunities for Arizona students, there will always be higher education opportunities for Arizona high schoolers.

Trying to draw everything together, it comes down to this: tuition increases are acceptable at the UA insofar as they can be shown to be improving the quality of education received. The UA must become more elite. Yet the tuition increases of a few years ago only led to decreased incoming SAT and GPA scores, a trend that must be reversed to justify the new costs.

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