Lawmakers and education officials are warning that increases in tuition rates probably will result from proposed budget cuts to Arizona’s university system. Furthermore, the state’s system of universities and community colleges probably will shrink course offerings at some schools.
Gov. Jan Brewer and legislative leaders are targeting Arizona’s universities and community colleges as one of the last big pots of money to cut. K-12 education has been slashed nearly as far as voter mandates will allow, and a plan to cut Medicaid spending depends on the mercy of a not-always-friendly Obama administration.
Under Brewer’s executive budget proposal, which top legislative Republicans say they probably will use as a template, the three state universities would take a $170 million cut, about 20 percent of the money they receive from Arizona’s general fund. Community colleges would lose about $73 million in general fund support as well.
Translation: Students and parents of students, grab your wallets.
Although Brewer’s budget chief, John Arnold, insisted that the cuts won’t necessarily lead to another tuition hike, critics of Brewer’s plan say there is no other way.
“If we would approach the Board of Regents and the presidents of the universities, the only way they can secure additional funding without infringing on their mission and their capacity to do research is tuition increases,” Democratic Rep. Tom Chabin, of Flagstaff said. “They know that. The governor knows that. It’s just hard to say it.”
Board of Regents Chairman Anne Mariucci said it would be unrealistic to expect tuition to stay level for the next year.
Mariucci said she is resigned to the cuts. But there’s no question that the results will be severe, she said.
“It will be a combination of cost-cutting, just ruthless cost-cutting,” Mariucci said, “not only going to the bone, but beyond the bone.”
Pay cuts for university employees will account for about $50 million of the reductions Brewer proposed. Brewer’s budget plan calls for a 5 percent pay cut, but Mariucci said salaries will likely be cut more than that.
The rest will come from “efficiencies,” as Arnold, put it. And Brewer said the universities have had fair warning.
“Two years ago, I went to the Board of Regents, I went to the university presidents and the community colleges and told them that we were headed into a cliff,” Brewer said in a press briefing. “So they are prepared, and I think they will work with us, and we’ll get the job done. It’s unfortunate, but they’re going to have to find some better, innovative ways to deliver education at the higher level to the people of Arizona.”
Education officials have been thinking about it, Mariucci said. And the results might not be pretty.
The university system must deal not only with the $170 million in general fund cuts, but with the loss of hundreds of millions in federal stimulus money as well. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $154 million to the universities in 2009 and $71.7 million in 2010. Those funds helped the universities offset deep cuts for the past two years, but the stimulus money has finally run out.
The Board of Regents already approved massive tuition hikes in 2010, raising in-state tuition by 15.9 percent at Arizona State University, 17.3 percent at Northern Arizona University and
23.7 percent at the University of Arizona.
“I have personally assured the governor that we will not be seeking to replace the full amount of the funding cuts by tuition, dollar-for-dollar,” Mariucci said. But, she added, “We definitely are going to have to look at tuition, to some extent.”
Brewer spokesman Paul Senseman would not say whether the governor expects the regents to raise tuition, and tried to distance the governor from any future hikes. He would say only that Brewer is “resistant and reluctant” to the notion.
“That’s not a decision that the governor makes,” Senseman said.
But higher tuition may just be the start.
Arizona State University is working on privatizing its law school, and Mariucci said the board is looking at more drastic cost-cutting, including the possible elimination of degree programs and even some colleges from the three universities.
“We have one medical school in the state with two campuses. But we have two law schools. We have three engineering schools. We have two nursing schools,” Mariucci said. “It would be far too premature to suggest that there are any hard-circle targets at this point. We are simply looking at all of those options and what the implications would be.”
Another possible solution, she said, is differential tuition, in which students would pay more for higher-cost programs. Mariucci said the board wants to shy away from cutting science, technology, engineering and mathematics — known as the STEM programs — because of their importance to economic development, especially as the state tries to attract high-tech industries such as solar, biomedical and aerospace.
But those programs cost more, and that higher cost may be passed on to the students.
Republican lawmakers are largely supporting Brewer’s budget plans. And not everyone is convinced that the universities will suffer as much as they claim.
Rep. John Kavanagh, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said total university funding has been more than adequate to keep up with student growth for the past three years.
And because the universities get so much of their money from sources outside the general fund, such as tuition and research grants, the cuts Brewer proposed represent only about 4 percent of their total funding, he said.
“Those that are comparatively flush with money clearly have to bear more of the burden in reductions,” Kavanagh said. “If they can’t sustain a $170 million reduction without a tuition increase, then maybe we need new leadership at the universities.”
The Board of Regents said the 4 percent number is misleading because not all of its funding can be used for student instruction.
Brewer has some plans of her own for ways the universities, “can continue to explore lower-cost higher education models,” as her budget proposal described it.
Those models include more regional campuses with separate tuition rates from their parent universities, four-year degrees from community colleges and an expansion of the state’s Two-Plus-Two program, which counts two-year degrees from community colleges toward a bachelor’s program at a state university.