Why Are Arizona’s Universities Hiking Tuition?

Students in the Arizona university system are being told once again that they will have to pay higher tuition. Education leaders appear to give little thought to the fact that as their student loan burden grows, students’ job prospects are not growing at the same rate.

Unfortunately for the students, those leaders can and do pass the blame onto the Arizona Legislature.

On March 18, 2016, the Arizona Board of Regents issued a statement regarding the proposed tuition hikes that reads in part: “We begin the annual public review of these tuition proposals amid a legislative session in which the regents have respectfully asked for some modest restoration of the recent, significant reductions in state support. We are grateful for the governor’s proposed reinvestment of $8 million in our newly designed funding model, which envisions gradual restoration of state support to 50 percent of the average cost of education for Arizona resident students, up from the present 34 percent. We seek an additional $24 million from the available funds in the present cycle, which would increase support to 36 percent.”

The Regents carefully craft the language and accept no responsibility for the hikes. Logic dictates that if university leaders and the Regents are not held responsible for the hikes there is little incentive to prevent them. But is it the Legislature’s fault? Have they really made such drastic cuts to our university system funding? Or is it that they simply cannot keep up with the dramatic education cost increases?

In February, Ellen Wexler discussed those increases in an article for Inside Higher ED. She writes, “College tuition has risen too quickly, and debt is unmanageable for increasing numbers of students; that much is clear. But to contain college prices, education leaders will need to answer a contentious question: Why does the price keep rising?”

“Higher education’s critics tend to blame high prices on overpaid professors or fancy climbing walls,” continues Wexler. “At public colleges, lobbyists tend to blame reductions in state support. But a new study places the blame elsewhere: the ready availability of federal student aid.”

According to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee baseline documents, it would appear that from 2009 through 2015, the universities experienced a fluctuation of funding:

University of Arizona – Main CampusFY 2009 ACTUALFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES441,903,3001,547,027,1001,608,307,3001,606,925,0001,649,992,000
Arizona State University – East CampusFY 2009 ACTUALFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES67,964,00088,445,80070,031,10079,400,40081,702,900
Northern Arizona UniversityFY 2009 ACTUALFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES395,826,400461,675,700465,055,100490,967,900530,075,000

Joint Legislative Budget Committee partial baseline comparison

University of Arizona – Main CampusFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES1,547,027,1001,608,307,3001,606,925,0001,649,992,000
University of Arizona – Health Sciences CenterFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES365,858,700379,908,100413,810,800492,306,500
Arizona State University – Tempe/DPCFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES1,561,506,5001,653,257,3001,793,253,3001,967,854,200
Arizona State University – East CampusFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES88,445,80070,031,10079,400,40081,702,900
Northern Arizona UniversityFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES461,675,700465,055,100490,967,900530,075,000
TOTAL – ALL YEARS4,024,513,8004,176,558,9004,384,357,4004,721,930,600

 Joint Legislative Budget Committee – all entities baseline comparison 2012 to 2015
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To view the detailed Arizona University System Baseline Book information – click here

In the March 18, 2016, press release, Jay Heiler, Chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents concluded: “All three of our universities have been engaged with their teams and the board over the past six years in an intensive, ongoing effort to find cost savings, establish and grow other sources of revenue, and evolve their financial models. At the same time, we are working toward ever-improving academic quality and student experience. The state’s part and partnership, not only as a funder but as a collaborator in this work, will be critically important this year and in years to come.”

Contrary to those claims, in September of 2015, while demanding more money from the Legislature, raised the salaries of all three university presidents. Arizona State University President Michael Crow received a $150,000 raise for the 2015 fiscal year for a total compensation of nearly $1 million. University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart received an increase of $115,000 for a total compensation of approximately $753,700. Northern Arizona President Rita Cheng received an increase of $40,000 for a total compensation of approximately $560,200.

As a frame of reference, the governor of Arizona earns $95,000 a year. According to Ballotpedia, members of the Legislature earn $24,000 each year (with per diem pay) for approximately 120 days in session. According to new research from the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, university presidents on average earn $377,261 annually, or more than twice the average pay for CEOs, who take home about $176,840 on average each year.

For the kind of money our university presidents make, one would expect them to be more successful at finding cost savings, and growing other sources of revenue, rather than raising tuition on kids in a state in which the median income is $49,928.

Related article: Arizona University Leaders Want Tuition Increases Again