Arizona universities look to boost degrees - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Arizona universities look to boost degrees

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Posted: Thursday, June 18, 2009 5:13 pm | Updated: 1:56 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Leaders of Arizona's three state universities are moving ahead with a plan to create more affordable higher education options for students

Leaders of Arizona's three state universities are moving ahead with a plan to create more affordable higher education options for students as they face huge budget cuts and a call from the governor to boost the number of degrees.

The universities currently award about 18,000 bachelor's degrees a year, and Gov. Jan Brewer wants that number doubled by 2020. She also says that having the majority of undergraduates at research-level universities is too costly.

The presidents of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona outlined a plan Thursday to open up a fourth campus as soon as next year and four similar campuses by 2020. They told the Board of Regents they also will focus on recruitment, and improving retention and graduation rates.

One of the major challenges will be how to finance the efforts at a time when universities are forced to slash their budgets, implement furloughs, lay off employees and cut programs as the state wrangles with a shortfall. The state cut nearly $200 million in funding to universities in the 2009 fiscal year, according to a regents spokeswoman.

Regents largely backed the presidents' plan but questioned the cost and to what extent the number of campuses could grow without compromising quality.

"If we can't raise this money, and I think without excessive tuition increases, then we're not going to see this ultimate expansion," said Regent Dennis DeConcini of Tucson.

The presidents weren't deterred by current economic conditions, and the state will invest more money in higher education once its finances recover, Arizona State President Michael Crow said.

The plan isn't to build a lot of new facilities but expand offerings at current two-year schools to offer four-year degrees. By creating partnerships with existing community colleges, the presidents hope to cut down on costs. They agreed to work together to avoid duplicating efforts in establishing new programs.

The location of the fourth campus will be announced in August. Lake Havasu City and Show Low have expressed interest.

The proposed campuses would offer only bachelor's degrees with limited, more service-driven majors and have cheaper in-state tuition than Arizona State, Northern Arizona and the University of Arizona. Tuition for new undergraduate students at the universities is between $6,000 and $7,000.

The three universities already blanket much of the state when it comes to providing options for higher education through main and branch campuses, learning centers and distance education.

Northern Arizona President John Hager said the problem lies in recruiting and retaining students and providing high-quality options at a lower cost. About 55,000 students graduate from high school each year in Arizona, and about 10,700 of them attend one of the three state universities.

"We have to do something substantially different," he said.

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