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An open letter to members of the Arizona Legislature

As you work on a budget that best serves Arizona families today, we hope you bear in mind the fundamental role higher education and our system of public universities play in shaping the kind of future we all want for Arizona.

This is why:

Educated citizens live more self-sufficient lives

Eileen Klein

Eileen Klein

We represent Arizona’s three public universities and the larger system of higher education in this state. In just weeks, more than 20,000 students will graduate from Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. Part of what we enjoy most is meeting first-generation graduates – those pioneers who are the first members of their family to complete college just as our state’s founders intended. That ceremony is the culmination of hard work and sacrifice. But there is something tangible here.

Research tells us a university diploma can change life’s entire trajectory for the graduate and their children. Not only does the holder of a bachelor’s earn more (an estimated $1 million over the course of a lifetime), but the fact they’ve graduated from college becomes one of the strongest predictors their own children will someday do the same.

College graduates also have better access to health care and lower rates of incarceration, welfare and unemployment. We could go on.

Michael Crow

Michael Crow

We all want Arizonans to be self-sufficient.  A quality higher education is a superb and proven path to that self-sufficiency.

Public universities help drive the Arizona economy

Few state investments generate a better return on investment than higher education. In fact, according to a just-completed, first-of-its-kind analysis, Arizona’s public universities were responsible for 102,000 jobs and $11.1 billion in total economic impact during fiscal 2015. In fact, one in every five jobs in Coconino County alone is a result of NAU’s impact.

The analysis was not all-encompassing. For example, it did not account for the multiple spin-off businesses created by faculty, staff and students through their efforts or as a result of university research. Likewise, the economic impact report excludes the earnings of our Arizona graduates – last estimated at $13.2 billion in 2012.

Regardless, this analysis helps illustrate the economic powerhouse that is Arizona’s system of public universities.

Consider: In 2015, the statewide economic impact of hosting Cactus League baseball was estimated at $809 million. The economic boost from the Super Bowl in Glendale was pegged at $719 million.

Now, no one disputes the value of spring training or the Super Bowl. We love those events and how they promote tourism and business relocation for our state. But when it comes to economic impact day in and day out, our public universities are in a whole different league.

We heard you

During the economic downturn, you asked that our institutions do more with less. So, over the course of eight years, we took dramatic steps to reduce our overhead and become more efficient.  There was a lot of pain – Arizona’s public funding of higher education now ranks 49th in the country, on a per capita basis – but the news isn’t all bad.

The taxpayer cost per degree awarded from one of our universities is actually lower now than it was in 2010. That’s remarkable.

We continue the mission to make Arizona higher education leaner and more student-focused. That’s the thinking behind our new strategic plan and funding model, which devotes every additional dollar allocated by the state to offset the cost of an Arizona resident student to attend a university. This new approach has earned the endorsement of every major business group in Arizona. Likewise, we applaud Governor Ducey for supporting this funding plan and backing it with $8 million.

Over time, we ask that the state commit to funding half of the cost to educate each Arizona resident student. Currently, the state pays just 34 percent – down markedly from the 88 percent the state paid as recently as 1998. The 50 percent split is more than symbolic. It says the state of Arizona is an equal partner in supporting higher education for the benefit of Arizona students and families.

We can only get there with your support. As you turn your attention to finalizing the state budget, we respectfully request an allocation of $32 million in new, ongoing funding. These dollars will flow through the new, university funding model – helping drive down the cost of an education for Arizona resident students.

This allocation is a little less than one-third of what public universities bore in cuts last year alone, but would demonstrate a real commitment both to Arizona students and our larger mission to make available to them a quality education at an affordable price.

We ask not for a fiscal leap of faith. Hold us accountable. Judge us on our track record of success and the results we deliver for the citizens of Arizona.

Thank you for your consideration.

Eileen Klein, President, Arizona Board of Regents

Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University

Rita Cheng, President, Northern Arizona University

Ann Weaver Hart, President, University of Arizona


  1. Restructure the Arizona University System to provide greater accessibility, affordability, and accountability to a public university education for many more Arizonans:


  2. Thank you for this public letter. I am a parent of two ASU graduates and a 15 year volunteer on the university campus interviewing many wonderful students as part of a Family Association scholarship program. I can attest from watching my children blossom at ASU as well as years of experience volunteering at ASU to the power of a university degree changing lives. Our Family Association scholarships go to highly capable but financially stretched students. Through financial investments by our state and generous individuals our university system educates and inspires many thousands of first generation students to rise above their circumstances (family bankruptcy, death of parents, parents with no education, and even refugees who have escaped circumstances we cannot understand) to become our leaders of tomorrow. These young people inspire me and I think if more people got to know them we would surely be proud of them, their accomplishments since graduation, and for their potential.

  3. It’s sad that you are begging. You should be suing the State.

    Arizona Constitution, Article XI, Section 6. The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible.

    The past can’t be undone, but the law of the state clearly poses no ambiguity. These schools MUST be funded. If the State Legislature refuses to fund them in a lawful manner, it is the responsibility of the State schools and Regents to sue the State of Arizona until it complies with the law.

    Consider if the salaries of professors were proportionally lowered from 1998; they’d be over 60% lower than back then. Do you think we’d still have a functioning school system? Of course not. The Regents, the Presidents, the Legislature, and the Governor, and all of the prior holders of those positions in the 21st Century have failed to protect these institutions, and burdened students with much of the costs. The cost to Arizona is obvious, with fleeing teachers, “brain drain” to other areas, and the loss of in-state spots at the Universities to higher-paying out-of-state students.

    Either fund the schools, or change the constitution. Until then, all are failing in their duties to uphold the Constitution of Arizona. May we soon see the system that was funded properly, as it was.

  4. Make the Arizona universities post their full time tuition rates going back 25 years – in all their marketing and recruitment materials and on the web. Give these young kids a chance to see what has been going on and try to make an informed choice about attending. I don’t know, who would today’s students point the finger at? Trouble is Mat, The Regents can’t sue because the state will just point out what a lousy job has been done controlling costs.
    One such example of AZ fraud here: http://www.courthousenews.com/2012/10/15/51262.htm
    When you have a state education department that does not even validate enrollment and just dolls out money without even checking – then it just goes to show.

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