July 21, 2004
Arizona’s public universities may be headed toward a crisis. Educational leaders are considering ways to restructure the state university system to ensure that residents have an affordable place to learn without burdening any one institution with an estimated population boom.
A yearlong study into the system kicked off Tuesday at ASU Downtown Center in Phoenix. Representatives of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University, the University of Arizona and three community college districts met to set the agenda.
The 18-member Arizona Board of Regents’ feasibility and planning study group will hatch eight stakeholder groups that will provide a voice for students, staff, faculty, elected officials, diversity issues, community colleges, alumni/community, and business/economic development.
Stakeholder groups will meet a minimum of three times and throughout the state. Study group members also will serve in the stakeholder groups.
In the end, each stakeholder group will compile a report. The feasibility and planning study group will present a final version to the Board of Regents.
Although the regents will make the final decision, any change in funding or university status would have to be approved by the state Legislature.
This will not be quick, warned Mary Jo Waits, staff director overseeing the
"We are committed to this process of a year in doing our homework," said Waits, who will meet with each stakeholder group. The regents will be updated at each of their meetings.
Arizona’s three university presidents and the regents’ former board president, Chris Herstam, created a university redesign proposal that would keep ASU and UA as research universities. NAU would become the flagship under a new group called Arizona Regional Universities. The regional university group also would include two new universities: Central Arizona University and Southern Arizona University.
ASU West in Phoenix would become Central. NAU — Yuma and UA South would merge to become Southern.
The proposal is not concrete, and several others will be considered. So far, 10 alternate or modified proposals have been submitted for the study group’s consideration. Aug. 1 is the deadline for proposals.
"There is much to consider in these proposals," Herstam said. "I am confident that we will be able to incorporate the best."
Arizona needs a new strategy to deal with the expected population boom, said David Longanecker, executive director of the Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education in Boulder, Colo. Longanecker is serving as the study group’s consultant.
"Your strategy made sense for a small state," Longanecker said. "It’s not a strong system for a fairly large state."
Along with Arizona’s growth, residents should expect a change in demographics, including more minorities.
"It’s going to come from a population Arizona has not served particularly well — Hispanics," Longanecker said.
The state’s adult population also lags behind the national average in the
percentage of those who hold degrees.
"A lot of people with the best jobs in Arizona have come from somewhere else," Longanecker said.