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University presidents say they’ve met mandate to do more with less

ASU President Michael Crow (File Photo)

Briefing lawmakers Wednesday, presidents of Arizona’s three public universities said they have met the state’s mandate to do more with less.

But after years of reduced state funding, Northern Arizona University President John Haeger told the House Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee he’d like money to provide raises for deserving faculty and staff. He also said his university has put off $109 million in maintenance.

“Eventually, my friend the fire marshal will insist that particular projects get completed,” he said.

Arizona State University President Michael M. Crow recommended tying university funding to performance by developing a system linked with goals set by state leaders.

“We want to be held accountable for what we do,” Crow said. “The Legislature needs to design a methodological approach through which, when the state’s economic performance is enhanced, we at the universities are contributing to that enhancement and should therefore, among the universities, be able to compete for resources.”

Crow also called for tying merit-based state financial aid to overall high school performance rather than the current system tied to a student’s AIMS test score. He said that change could increase graduation rates.

“If you end high school by completing a set of courses and have a certain academic achievement level, which isn’t based on a test because no test can capture this, then that would be a state-based financial aid program that we should look at,” Crow said, citing Georgia and North Carolina as states with such systems.

New University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart highlighted her university’s successful medical schools, including the UA Cancer Center’s recent partnership with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Phoenix.

Arizona Board of Regents Chairman Rick Myers outlined goals and needs for the universities, including a goal to increase the number of college graduates in Arizona from 30,000 to 60,000 by 2020. Another goal is increasing research funding from $1 billion per year to $2 billion by 2020.

“Three years ago Governor (Jan) Brewer addressed the Board of Regents with a challenge to develop a long-term, strategic education plan for Arizona,” Myers said. “She knew that we were entering tough economic times but she said, ‘You have to continue to work on greatness even though your resources are going to be scarce.’”

Like the other presidents, Haeger said his university has risen to that challenge.

“If you look at the budget cuts we’ve faced, we’re down $60 million in state appropriation,” Haeger said. “We’ve figured out a way to handle most of our issues, but there are still things that because of the loss of funding have become real concerns.”

The committee’s chairman, Rep. Jeff Dial, R-Chandler, pledged to allocate the necessary funding for Arizona’s universities, but added that there’s a balance in providing for higher education.

“I think the universities are doing a good job identifying what we need to do, and we as a state are looking at our scarce resources and how we can get them those resources so that we’re graduating 60,000 graduates,” Dial said. “It’s a humongous number, but it’s what we need to do to move the state forward.”

University numbers:

• 24,000: Graduates last year (7 percent increase from year before)

• 1,400: Master’s degree graduates last year

• 60,000: 2020 goal for college graduates per year, up from 30,000 today.

• $2 billion: Research funding goal for 2020, up from $1 billion today.

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