The Arizona Desert Lamp

What’s free as possible?

Posted in Uncategorized by Evan Lisull on 29 April 2009

“The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.”

Arizona State Constitution, Art. 11, Sec. 6

This phrase has been stretched far beyond its past-due date, trumpeted as though it were some God-ordained right (even as actual rights – freedom of association, freedom of speech – are chipped away without so much as a pause). It is cited by students like scripture, as they complain on the elliptical machine about the proposed tuition increases. Later, loafing in a leather chair in the air-conditioned lobby of their dorm, they text their friends: “$1100 – WTF?”

You get the point. Perhaps Rep. Pearce is posturing when he calls the universities “country clubs,” but behind that bluster is a kernel of truth: we’re a long way from Cicero by lantern light. The original tuition cap, adjusted for inflation, works out to $1,600. And indeed, with $1,600, you can get a very nice tent and a collection of books. But if we’re already all-in on the modern university thing, then one can’t expect to pay traditional university prices.

Practically, though, there seems to be a bigger issue in the phrase – what exactly is “as nearly free as possible” referring to? The Board of Regents has taken the phrase to be a comparative one – hence, we have to be “as nearly as free as possible” when compared to other equivalent schools. (But what equivalent? Aye, there’s the rub.) Yet it’s odd to assert that the phrase was drafted for the purpose of trumping other states, unless the state constitution was written by a nascent marketing crew. “Cacti? Forget the cacti – education’s free as possible here! You can’t get that in Virginia, now can you?” Rather, the statement was probably intended to be an intrastate guarantee, independent of other considerations.

So as Tom Rex of ASU says, it’s broadly a statement of purpose. But more than that, it doesn’t guarantee a type of education; rather, it’s a statement for the entire system. This “as nearly free as possible” still exists – it’s called Pima Community College. If you want the ritzier, research-based education offered by the UA, you should be prepared to fork over more. Ideally, this would get us back to the Three University Model – and while this would probably make the UA itself much more expensive (especially for out-of-state students), it should also make the school much more elite.

As important as minimizing cost to Arizona students should be, there is also something to be said for diversity in higher education offerings. Increasingly, the UA is becoming ASUSouth; and while this may help the state in adhering to this throwaway phrase, it punishes her best students by forcing them to go elsewhere to get a top-notch education.


Fees by any other name

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 31 March 2009

An interesting divergence between the UA and the other two Arizona schools is revealed in this Citizen article:

Arizona State University is looking at a surcharge for all students, which would be temporary until state funding is restored.

A surcharge amount hasn’t been proposed but would likely “be in the hundreds, not the thousands” of dollars, said Betty Capaldi, ASU Provost.

. . .

Northern Arizona University is considering a tuition surcharge or charging more for certain programs. NAU President John Haeger said the surcharge could run between $200 and $300, although he still wants student input before proposing an amount.

The University of Arizona is looking at adding more student fees or increasing existing fees but is not looking at a tuition surcharge.

If this emergency tuition surcharge is anything like the one proposed in Washington state, then there should be a sunset provision attached. There is certainly something to be said for the idea, as this surcharge is more obviously a short-term solution in direct reaction to cuts. I suspect that the fees the UA is proposing, which will be attached to specific arms like advising, will persist long after the present fiscal issues, as the groups funded with the fee will fight to the death to ensure their survival.

Tuition surcharges are not without their faults, though, as the state of Oregon demonstrates:

Students of higher education in Oregon will see increasing tuition costs next year after temporary sucharges were rendered permanent and other tuition increases were approved by the Oregon University System.

On March 21, the Oregon State Board of Higher Education met to formally approve a 2002-03 temporary tuition increase and present several tuition increase proposals for 2003-04. These increases are a direct effect of the January failure of Oregon Ballot Measure 28, OUS spokeswoman Di Saunders said.

Following the failure of Measure 28, the University implemented a temporary tuition surcharge for winter and spring term of $10 per credit hour for all undergraduate students. The surcharge was expected to expire at the end of this academic year; however, the failing economy and lack of state education funding led the University to incorporate the charge into the annualized tuition. Saunders said the decision was not something anyone expected — or wanted — but was one of the only options available to secure funding for OUS schools without harming student instruction.

In addition to making the surcharges permanent, the University may also implement a tuition increase for the 2003-05 biennium.

Somehow, these financial emergencies for the university have a funny way of never, ever ending; every year is worse than the last, and we’re always standing on a precipice. The best least-bad option is probably the specific fees, but only insofar as they have the GPSC-recommended sunset provisions and provide the opportunity for public review every two years. Otherwise, the class of 2035 will rue the day that we somehow allowed the Green CaTs fee to be passed.

The Arizona Student and the Three Universities

Posted in Campus by Evan Lisull on 4 September 2008

An article yesterday in the Wildcat discussed the ever increasing size of the university. The meat of the article follows below:

In addition to overcrowding, the increased student body size raises questions among students regarding academic integrity and university identity. Shelton maintains, however, that the university has a distinct profile separate from sister schools ASU and NAU, and that academic quality is the university’s number one factor.

“The three Regents’ universities NAU, ASU and the UA have distinct profiles, characteristics and missions,” Shelton said. “They afford a wide range of educational opportunities to the people of Arizona … at the UA, we ensure that the quality of education remains high.”

Not all students see the distinction so clearly.

“I went to ASU for a semester,” [Rafael] Garcia said. “And I can tell you the UA is on its way. I think it’s still several years out, but if growth doesn’t get nipped in the butt soon, it will be like we are all walking around in Tempe.”

Arizona, being a fairly young state, doesn’t have the huge amount higher-ed diversity that can be found in Massachusetts, New York, or California. You have the Small School, the Big State School, and the Research University. This is a pretty common trichotomy around the country. Yet unlike the previously referenced fable, each person will find the university that is “just right,” depending on their preferences.

Shelton is right to assert that each school needs to emphasize its own role. NAU really has no chance of endangering this balance; it has, and will be, the Small School. ASU has taken the “big school” label with pride, clocking in with a new record of 66,000 (!) students this fall.

Thus far, UA has also done an admirable job: as the chart from the UA Fact Book shows, attendance has pretty much flat-lined around a healthy 35,000. Yet the UA will also be under the greatest pressure to “expand opportunity” to prospective students. But, to be brusque, that’s what ASU is for. As for those who decry the “large” classrooms with sixty students, perhaps NAU was the right fit. Hopefully, the UA will continue to increase its admission standards, maintain the population figures, and continue to achieve in fields, even those outside of the astronomy department.

Addenda: As a side note, does anyone know whether NAU’s school paper exists? The last update is an article entitled, “Bill to prohibit cultural groups” (I don’t like the bill discussed either, but that’s an idiotic way to summarize the proposal), from May 1, 2008.