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Regents to lawmakers: Tuition hikes burdening students

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Tuition increases at Arizona’s three public universities might force some students to drop out and deter others from applying, members of the Arizona Board of Regents told a legislative committee Tuesday.

“As we raise tuition or as we raise costs of education, there are many people who psychologically don’t even bother to apply to school because they think it costs too much,” said Mark Killian, a regent and the board’s treasurer.

Killian addressed a committee of state lawmakers reviewing the results of a state audit that was part of the board’s sunset review. The committee voted to recommend that the board be continued for another 10 years.

The tuition increases of recent years came as the Legislature made deep cuts to higher education to address budget deficits. Shan Hays, performance audit manager for the Arizona Office of the Auditor General, noted that tuition and fees accounted for about 56 percent of public universities’ revenues in fiscal 2011 compared to 41 percent in fiscal 2007.

The auditor general published two reports on the Board of Regents in late September as part of the board’s sunset review process. One report is an audit review and the other focuses on tuition at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona.

Rep. Tom Chabin, D-Flagstaff, said he didn’t think the report on tuition fully reflected the financial challenges students and their families now face.

“We must understand completely, succinctly, what the challenges are to Arizona families who send their children to our community colleges and our universities and what those fiscal burdens are and look ourselves in the mirror and ask ourselves if we are willing to make the commitment the generations preceding us made to us,” he said.

Tom Anderes, the president of the board, said he and other regents recognize that tuition increases have created problems for students. But he said it’s difficult to measure the number of students who leave because of the increased cost.

“As students leave in their freshman or sophomore or junior years, we try very much to identify the reasons that they left,” he said. “We don’t always get that information but we have more and more.”

Anderes said there might be other personal or economic reasons behind a student’s decision to withdraw.

Rep. Amanda A. Reeve, R-Phoenix, said money spent on tuition is an investment in one’s future and that she wouldn’t want to see dropping tuition decrease the quality of education.

“I am a little concerned that we keep talking a lot about tuition and how we need to drop that,” she said. “I understand we need to do something about the tuition, I do, but I worry that you also get what you paid for.”

The audit report generally found a strong performance by the board but said regents can improve the way they document and resolve complaints.

The report on tuition said Arizona’s three public universities have taken several steps to ease the burden of tuition increases on students.

Fred DuVal, chairman of the board, said the regents have renewed the way the state invests in higher education.

“We are hoping to change the question in the conversation that we are having with you from one which says, ‘We are growing and we need more money,’ to, ‘What is it that you want us to produce? What is the assignment that you are giving us to meet the workforce needs for the state of Arizona?’” DuVal said.

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