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University system gets funding increases after years of cuts

The Arizona Board of Regents began the legislative session seeing nothing in any budget proposal for two of its prime spending requests:

Money for parity among the three universities and for the Phoenix campus of the University of Arizona medical school.

The regents actually got all they wanted for parity, $15.3 million, and almost half of what they requested for the medical school, $6 million, by the time the budget was passed on May 1.

However, the board reacted with mixed feelings to the Legislature’s decision to appropriate $5 million for performance-based funding, a concept the regents weren’t preparing to implement until fiscal year 2014. The money is taken from the base amounts the universities already receive and given to the regents to distribute.

Ted Ferris, a consultant for regents President Tom Anderes, said there is gratitude for an increase in funding after years of decreases, but for performance-based funding to be done right, it has to be with new dollars.

“Essentially, one could argue that the universities are having to re- earn money that they’ve already earned,” Ferris said. “The good news is the regents want performance funding to happen, the governor wants it to happen, it has started.”

Ferris said the regents next year will ask for new money to fund the performance model.

The new method will represent a fundamental shift in the method of determining university funding, which for years has been based on student enrollment numbers.

The regents have been working to develop the new university funding system for two years and it will be ready to implement it on July 1.

It will be based on increases in the number of degrees students earn, increases in credit hours and increases in outside funding for research.

The 2012 Higher Education Budget Reconciliation Bill included a legislative mandate that the regents make recommendations for implementing performance-based funding, a new financial aid system and a way to close the per-student funding disparity among the universities.

The regents submitted a budget request in October for a 17.5 percent increase from the previous fiscal year.

The wish list included $11.9 million for Arizona State University and

$3.3 million to Northern Arizona University to equalize per-student funding that has been out of balance for years among the three universities as the University of Arizona has traditionally gotten more per student than the other two schools. The regents also asked for $14.5 million for the Phoenix medical campus.

Rep. Bob Robson, R-Chandler, who worked on an ad hoc committee addressing parity in 2008, said the issue has been around for 60 years or more, and while there was no money slotted for it at first, support began to grow among lawmakers after the regents came out with recommendations as directed by the Legislature.

“When do you have the Board of Regents, three university presidents, the Legislature and the executive branch all coming together to recognize a single issue?” Robson said.

Regents Chair Rick Myers said in a written statement that the $6 million infusion for the University of Arizona College of Medicine Phoenix campus will go a long ways to expanding the school to produce its goal of 120 doctors a year.

Myers said Arizona lags the nation in doctors per capita and the Phoenix campus is key to recruiting and retaining them.

“Its long-term growth will be compromised without adequate state support,” Myers said.

Myers said the money in the 2013 budget isn’t enough to stay on pace to reach the goal, so the regents will ask for an additional $8.5 million in 2014.

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