Today, I’m Arizona’s Attorney General, but decades ago I was a first-generation American whose family spoke a language other than English at home. I went to public school, got good grades, stayed out of trouble, and then went on to ASU with hopes of a career in law. I worked part-time at Goldwater’s Department Store and Robinson’s May and endured my fair share of cramped apartments and ramen, but I graduated debt free.
By completing my college degree with no long term financial debt, I was able to attend law school, serve as a prosecutor, and eventually start a family. Now as parents, my wife and I are facing the anxiety of affording college for our children.
A college degree often leads to opportunity. The Arizona Constitution states that the instruction furnished at our universities must be “as nearly free as possible.” Former Attorney General Napolitano recognized that the “framers supported an educated citizenry and wished to insure that public education at the university level be available and financially accessible to Arizona residents.”
In 2017, I filed a lawsuit against the Board of Regents over skyrocketing costs of tuition. Tuition at our state universities has increased more than 300% since 2003. How can any middle-class student afford a four-year degree? For too many Arizonans, their higher education options are being saddled with overwhelming debt, or not attending a university at all.
Many things cost more today than they used to, but tuition has far outpaced inflation. It’s true the state legislature has cut funding for public universities since 2008, but during that same time period tuition increased over four times the amount of the cuts. The universities are taking in far more revenue now than they lost in state funding, and yet continue to raise tuition.
Some defenders of the status quo claim I’m trying to stifle innovation and destroy high-quality education. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m doing my part to move our education system away from a cost prohibitive one-sized model, and encourage additional and affordable options for more students while ensuring we stay true to the constitutional mandate of a nearly free college education for all eligible students.
Many are surprised to learn that the “actual cost” of instruction has not been among the factors considered in ABOR’s tuition policy since 2003. Instead, the availability of student loans and what other states’ universities are charging have lit the fuse for explosive tuition hikes. We must restore transparency to our public universities and ensure the actual cost of instruction is the primary factor in setting tuition rates for in-state undergraduates.
The Regents have fought our lawsuit on procedural grounds, saying we don’t have the authority to sue the universities. We appealed to the Supreme Court and the court has agreed to decide whether the Attorney General has the authority to file a lawsuit against the Regents. If the Attorney General cannot defend the constitution and protect taxpayers, who will?
Transparency is required to protect the public trust. Let’s uncover the true cost for our universities to provide instruction, and compare it to what is actually being charged. Let’s bring these important issues to the public light for policymakers to debate and resolve, instead of allowing fear tactics and bullying to protect the high-priced tuition structure that stifles opportunity for students and cripples families with debt.
I love my alma mater and believe today’s students deserve the same opportunities that I had. It’s time that someone defends our constitution and demands financial accountability to students and their families. I hope others will join me in this quest.