The Arizona Desert Lamp

The false tuition-fee dichotomy, and other notes from the first ASUA survey

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 March 2009

ASUA Pulse . . . it lives, vicariously, through the Academic Affairs site. In an even weirder twist, the survey is actually quite decent, up until the last section on fees (more on that later). The success of this survey derives from its interest in the perception of students on campus than with their actual prescriptions — it seeks to survey as a census, rather than surveying as an interest group (again, until the last section).

The first question is my favorite, as it spells out the basic debate that should underlie the basic debate on the future of the university.

The goal of tuition is to provide a quality education at the most affordable price. Tuition should be balanced to maintain quality while still supporting access and attainment. In your opinion where should the balance lie between Affordability and Quality of Education?

1 (Quality)        2       3        4        5        6        7 (Affordability)

The answer to this question depends a good deal on whether we are discussing the UA’s tuition within the state or within the nation. One of the UA’s chief advantages in the country is its ability to offer a top research institution at a very affordable rate – allowing the school to snag talented out-of-state kids from California and the Midwest (among other places). Within the state, though, we should be near the top when it comes to quality, leaving the all-important burden of affordability on ASU and community colleges. (In the long-term, this will make ASU the pet favorite of the state legislature, since it will be the school providing the greatest mass of “opportunity” to Arizona students – another case for the research-based [and thus, noocratic] UA to remove itself from the vagaries of the [democratizing] political process.)

Despite its similarity to the SSF survey “priority ranking” questions, the question on cuts is similarly well-put:

Survey Question on Cuts

The key part here is the first sentence. While these measures can be seen as signs of impending DETH, the fact that they have already been enacted around the country helps to soften the mental blow, and hopefully will lead to more rational decision making. Besides, the national nature of this question helps to ensure that these responses will provide little more than a brushstroke painting of student opinion. It’ll be interesting, and worth at least considering if only as a reference point on student biases; but the university will go with whatever method is most suitable to its own situation, regardless of popularity.

Then, the fee question:

In this section, the term “fees” applies only to mandatory fees. Mandatory fees are defined as charges that most full-time students are required to pay in addition to tuition. One benefit to Fees is that all funding is transparent. When tuition rises, it is more difficult to trace where the funds are being allocated. Fees on the other hand are assigned to specific functions that cannot be used for any other purpose. Fees however, may be more vulnerable to annual increases or decreases.

In the event that you are given the option to choose between an increase in tuition or the implementation of fees, which would you choose? For the sake of this question, assume that ‘neither’ is not an option.

The question itself is not PIRG-level unbalanced, but the lame argument against fees is quickly countered with “Oh, and tuition isn’t?” This, in short, effectively summarizes the argument for fees that has been put forth by all sorts of leaders on campus since the Fee Frenzy first came to light. Taken in a vacuum, it’s actually quite reasonable –  reasonable enough that, had I not known the purpose of this survey, I would check “Implementation of Fees” over “Increase in Tuition.”

Yet it’s very obvious what this survey is trying to do: to demonstrate that increasing fees is very palatable to the student body, and that we should go full steam ahead with GreenCaTs, SSF, Utilities, President’s Maid Service Fee, and Lord knows what else.

I can still agree that fees are superior to tuition in aspects of transparency and allocation. Yet these arguments leave a few questions unanswered: where was the proposal to substitute transparent fees for opaque tuition in 2008, when Student Regent David Martinez brought the motion to increase tuition to the ABOR floor? Where were these arguments in 2007, when tuition was hiked and President Tommy Bruce declared that, “Students are consumers of education, the university will always need money, but that doesn’t mean that we need to make students pay for it”? Where were these arguments in December of 2006, when tuition was increased by 5 percent? What about in April of that same year, when tuition was increased by 4.6 percent? What about in 2004, when tuition was raised 13.7 percent? 2005 was close, when Student Regent Wes McCalley proposed a $30 fee for ‘class availability’. Of course, the student proposal also included a $100 increase in tuition at UA South, a tuition hike that President Likins did not support; in the end, the approved proposal ended up raising tuition by 9.8 percent.

Meanwhile, last I checked ASA was still busy dithering around with “predictable tuition” and printing off black t-shirts. No – it is only now, when the tuition well has run dry and the legislature has sounded last call, that arguments for the “more transparent fees” come to light. There is no choice between tuition and fees – that bridge was passed many moons ago, and the administration (with the student leadership in full concert) opted for tuition. Instead, it is a question of whether students want more fees on top of their tuition increases.

If these vaunted figures really cared about transparency- clearly, they* don’t – then they should have considered these issues a long time ago. Of course, this has nothing to do with transparency, and everything to do with immediacy – left with no other options, the school must turn now to fees. In the end, the Regents will get what the Regents want – but don’t piss on my foot and call it “sustainable development.”

Meanwhile, if fees are so transparent, could someone show me any minutes/membership list/meeting dates and places/funding proposals for the current Student Services Fee Appropriations Board, the Tech Fee Board, the Rec Center Fee Board, and any other boards out there? It’s odd that information so “transparent” is seemingly only granted on a “need-to-know” basis.

* – Except, obviously, the GPSC.


One Response

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  1. The Arizona Desert Lamp said, on 25 March 2009 at 1:07 pm

    […] in Campus by Connor Mendenhall on March 25th, 2009 Evan’s already covered the policy details of ASUA’s first “Be the Change” survey. I have two additional […]

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