The cost of an Arizona State University education might rocket as much as $1,200 next school year, in what would be the largest single tuition and fee increase in state history.
Higher education expenses have already climbed almost $600 — to $6,200 a year — for undergraduate freshmen and transfer students starting next fall. Continuing ASU students received a $280 tuition hike.
On Thursday, the Arizona Board of Regents is scheduled to vote whether to approve requests from the state’s three public universities to add new surcharges.
If approved, the surcharge would cost in-state ASU students an additional $600 — forcing some in-state students to pay $6,800 a year just to enroll. Nonresident students’ surcharge would be $800.
ASU President Michael Crow cut the proposed surcharge, previously $1,200 for all students, in half late Wednesday afternoon. In a written statement, Crow said university officials reduced the proposal in response to projected increases in federal stimulus money ASU might soon receive.
Even still, such costs are unprecedented for Arizona’s universities — but so too are the cuts in state higher education funding.
Since August, state lawmakers have eliminated nearly $90 million from ASU’s budget as they struggle with multiple billion-dollar deficits. Richard Stanley, the university’s planner, said ASU could lose as much as $32 million more in the coming months.
A temporary surcharge is necessary for ASU to protect the quality of its education, Stanley said. Students must pay for a larger share of their instruction “in order to not have a thousand layoffs, or termination of financial aid packages, things that would really wreck the place,” he said.
Already, ASU has laid off 900 employees, said Terri Shafer, a university spokeswoman.
Student leaders say they will attempt to convince a majority of the regents to oppose the surcharges.
“It’s something that we can’t handle,” said Andrew Rigazio, vice president of ASU’s undergraduate student government.
For many students, the choice will be between dropping out and adding debt. But the private loans higher education increasingly relies on are less plentiful now.
“The problem is the (credit) markets are so dry that it’s even hard for people to get student loans these days, or they get them at high interest rates,” Rigazio said.
Stanley said the regents would consider whether to institute a surcharge each year, at least until the state tax revenues recover.
Until then, ASU plans to use the $55 million the surcharge would generate, combined with about $35 million in federal stimulus money, to avoid cutting further, Stanley said.
It is not yet clear precisely how much money the universities will receive from the federal government or the state, as lawmakers continue budget negotiations.
Rigazio argued that uncertainty is cause enough to reject the proposed surcharges.
“This is something that doesn’t need to happen right now,” Rigazio said. “There’s enough in the stimulus money and what could be in the budget to put this off a year.”