A fight is brewing at the Capitol over how much new money — if any — to give to the state university system.
House Minority Leader Chad Campbell on Friday called the request by the state's three universities for an additional $100 million “very prudent.”
“If you want to have a ready workforce moving forward, if you want to have an educated population that's going to be able to bring in the high tech jobs that we talk about, those high-paying sustainable jobs, then you've got to have an educated workforce,” he said. “And that comes out of the higher education system.”
Lawmakers did put another $28.2 million into universities for the current year, but what ultimately happened left a bad taste in the mouth of House Speaker Andy Tobin.
“We started putting money back,” he said. “And then they raised the tuition.”
The question of direct aid to universities is linked to how much Arizona universities should be providing in financial aid to needy students to help them deal with the higher costs.
Senate President Andy Biggs complained that the system amounts to cost shifting. He pointed out some of that financial aid comes from taking a share of what all students pay. The result, Biggs said, is the students whose family financial situation disqualifies them from aid end up subsidizing — and effectively paying more — to help those less fortunate.
Gov. Jan Brewer sidestepped questions of whether the universities should have more money.
“It's certainly something that needs to be discussed,” she said. But pressed further, the governor said she does not believe that raising tuition is a better option than more state aid.
“But we'll sit down and discuss it,” she said, promising to say more when she unveils her budget proposal this coming week.
Campbell said that tuition in Arizona has gone up more over the last five years than any other public university system in the nation with the exception of California.
“But that is not the fault of the universities,” he said. “They have done what they needed to do because I don't think we've done our job.”
This year the Board of Regents raised resident undergraduate tuition by 2.9 percent at Arizona State University, 3.5 percent at the University of Arizona and 5 percent at Northern Arizona University. That came on top of tuition hikes that averaged 14 percent a year for the five prior years.
Biggs acknowledged the amount of debt that many students have accumulated by the time they graduate. But he said there's another side to that — one in which universities share the blame.
He mentioned his own degree in Asian Studies.
“I love it and it was a very interesting major,” Biggs said. But he found out there was no market for his degree.
Biggs said his story is not unique; he said the universities should do more to inform students, up front, of the marketability of their degrees.
“They actually have that information,” he said. “They know where you can get jobs with an anthropology/archaeology major.”
He said the university might grant 20 such degrees in any year — but only two of them are working in the field.
“Hey, why don't you tell them that?” Biggs said.
Biggs said it's even worse than that. He said once the students graduate and figure out they can't work in their chosen field they're going to end up even more in debt pursuing a graduate degree.