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State’s 3 university presidents agree on uniform student funding figure

Arizona’s university presidents have agreed on a magic number that represents per student funding parity among the three institutions.

“We would say to the Legislature and to the board, each Arizona student should carry state appropriation at $6,322,” said Northern Arizona University President John Haeger at Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, held at Arizona State University.

That figure would mean ASU, which has the largest enrollment, would get an additional $58.2 million in state funding while NAU would get $16.6 million. The University of Arizona, which has traditionally received the most funding per student, would see no increase or decrease.

The figures were based on fiscal year 2011 enrollment and general fund appropriations, according to a report Haeger presented to the board.

Funding disparity has been a sore spot among the universities for years and came as a result of the schools having different missions and rates of growth.

According to a Joint Legislative Budget Report generated for an ASU working group of lawmakers, ASU, which has the largest enrollment, got $4,521 per full time student in fiscal year 2012 while UofA got $7,420 and NAU, the smallest enrollment, got $4,731.

The Legislature in the 2011 session directed the Board of Regents to develop recommendations to address the disparity issue, recommendations for a “student-centered” system of financial aid, and recommendations for a funding system based on performance. The board assigned each university one of those tasks and to create proposals that can be introduced into the next budget.

On Thursday, the board accepted a recommendation to base 100 percent of university funding on performance. The workgroups addressing the financial aid system are still looking at models from other states.

Haeger said bringing per-student funding parity has to be phased in.

“The disparity numbers are quite large in terms of dollars,” Haeger said. “We think five years is a reasonable number.”

To reach a parity number, the three presidents had to agree on what to exclude from their budgets that weren’t directly related to the fundamental education of the students.

Excluded was research funding for all three universities and UofA’s medical and agriculture schools, the latter having 120,000 acres of land.

“When we looked at the issue of funding disparity, I ask you to think not about individual institutions and their specific missions, but to think about the funding that goes to every student who attends an Arizona university,” Haeger said.

Regent Dennis DeConcini, a former U.S. senator from Tucson, said he was shocked by the recommendation, which in his eyes punished UofA.

“This is robbing the stage coach, in my opinion, and the bank all at once,” DeConcini said.

DeConcini and Regents Mark Killian and Rick Myers said they’re worried the recommendation will leave funding for research, the medical school and agriculture school vulnerable to spending cuts by the Legislature.

DeConcini said he also sees the potential for the Legislature wanting to fund at a smaller number per student.

“We are just asking for a big cut all across the board,” DeConcini said.

UofA President Eugene Sander said he supported the recommendation.

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