Regents Accept No Responsibility, Blame Others For Tuition Lawsuit

From: Why Are Arizona’s Universities Hiking Tuition?

The Arizona Board of Regents 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.

The chairman of the Arizona Board of Regents, Bill Ridenour refused to take responsibility for rising tuition costs on Monday in a letter to the Arizona Attorney General. Ridenour was responding to the news that the Attorney General’s Office is suing the Regents for increasing in-state tuition for the state’s three universities by nearly 400 percent since 2003.

The Arizona Constitution requires that “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.”

Ridenour claims that the Regents “first learned of through the news media.”

“The AG’s lawsuit – while it makes for good headlines – does nothing to change the burden for students and their families,” wrote Ridenour. “The suit is full of attacks, but offers no constructive remedies. The justice he seeks will not, and should not, be found at the courthouse.”

Despite the fact that the Legislature approved a massive funding scheme for the universities last Legislative Session, Ridenour claims that the “rising college costs and student debt” are “largely the result of a massive defunding of public higher education.”

A Joint Legislative Budget Committee’s partial baseline comparison shows that the universities have not faced cuts:

University of Arizona – Main CampusFY 2009 ACTUALFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUALFY 2016 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES441,903,3001,547,027,1001,608,307,3001,606,925,0001,649,992,0001,796,781,900
Northern Arizona UniversityFY 2009 ACTUALFY 2012 ACTUALFY 2013 ACTUALFY 2014 ACTUALFY 2015 ACTUALFY 2016 ACTUAL
TOTAL – ALL SOURCES395,826,400461,675,700465,055,100490,967,900530,075,000630,599,300

The Attorney General noted in the lawsuit that “fifteen years ago (the 2002-2003 academic year), the base tuition and mandatory fees for in-state students starting as undergraduates at the three Universities was approximately $2,600 per year.”

As per the lawsuit, for the 2017-2018 academic year, base tuition and fees for in-state students starting as undergraduates is as follows:

Name of InstitutionResident Tuition and Mandatory Fees for 2017-18Increase Since 2002-03
University of Arizona – Main Campus$12,228370%
Northern Arizona University – Flagstaff Campus$11,059325%
Arizona State University – All Campuses$10,792315%

In contrast to the increases in tuition, the consumer price index has increased only 36% over the same approximate period, according to the Attorney General’s lawsuit.

Ridenour’s letter:

Related articles:

AG Sues Arizona Regents For Unconstitutional Tuition Hikes

Arizona University Leaders Call New Budget “Devastating”

Regents Reject End Of DACA In-State Tuition Until Court Rules

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ASU Foundation Tax Filings Reveal Little On Personal Ties, Lobbying Expenses

We welcome the Arizona Attorney General’s suit. We have long resisted filing a challenge against the state regarding the funding of universities and had chosen instead to work with Governor Ducey and the Arizona Legislature for a solution that would reduce the financial burden for students and their families.

This suit will allow us to present the facts to a court of law and seek clarification of our constitutionally mandated obligation to provide “instruction as nearly free as possible.” We can now address who will pay for that mandate.

Although we welcome the suit, we are disappointed in the attorney general’s tactics. The announcement of his concerns, and his decision to sue the board over them, came as a surprise, which we first learned of through the news media. The board knew the attorney general was being pressured regarding DACA students, but he has never registered his concerns about the board, its performance or that of the university system.

The AG’s lawsuit – while it makes for good headlines – does nothing to change the burden for students and their families. The suit is full of attacks, but offers no constructive remedies. The justice he seeks will not, and should not, be found at the courthouse. The challenges of rising college costs and student debt are not news. Rather, they are largely the result of a massive defunding of public higher education accompanied by a seismic cost shift that has moved education from a shared responsibility to an individual responsibility. Arizona is not unique in this regard; what is unique is that in FY 2017, Arizona ranks 48th in per capita support for higher education.

State budgeting in the wake of the Great Recession upended the traditional university financial model. The federal government has become a dominant player in the total state budget with health care, not education, now the state’s top funding priority. It is hitting university students the hardest: Just 10 years ago, the state funded approximately 75 percent of the educational costs for a resident student (this excludes the University of Arizona Colleges of Medicine). This year, the state will fund approximately 34 percent. Even so, we have taken every step to minimize the financial impact on Arizona’s students during the past 10 years. It’s important to remember that most students receive some type of financial aid and, as a result, the average tuition paid by resident students has only increased about $1,900 from 2007 to 2016. During the same time period, our universities added about 55,000 students.

The right to be educated at the highest levels is one of the greatest privileges granted to us as Americans, and it remains one of the surest paths to economic success. Education is the great “equalizer” in that it allows students and families of limited means and from all walks of life to pursue the American dream. More and more, that dream can only be achieved with financial aid and support.

To ensure that our universities remain accessible to all Arizonans, this board has been working diligently within the bounds of the law to create a new approach to university financing that curbs the actual cost of education for Arizona students.

Our resident student funding model has received broad community support as well as student support. Over the past several years, we have dramatically reduced the price increases for Arizona students, stabilized the costs of education, enhanced need-based aid and significantly increased accountability for results. At the same time, we have increased the system’s performance, raising graduation rates and enhancing quality that has been recognized across the nation and around the world. All the while, we have consistently and respectfully advocated for additional state support in the wake of the largest cuts to higher education in the United States, often with students by our side.

While much more remains to be done, we are proud of our progress on behalf of our state. Today we are home to more than 170,000 students, more than half of whom are Arizonans. Our universities are among the largest and most diverse in the country.

As the citizen board appointed to oversee university education, we struggle every day with the paramount issues of access and affordability. There needs to be a rational statewide discussion, without political pandering, regarding our entire education structure and funding model for K-12 and higher education, including university education.”

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