Local graduates from Arizona’s three public universities look at the mountains of debt accumulated from obtaining that precious degree, and then grind their teeth when they remember the state’s founders expected their education to be provided “as free as possible.”
The frustration for students still working on degrees probably will mount even higher after the Arizona Board of Regents approved Thursday yet another 5 percent increase for next year. That’s less than Arizona State University’s request for a 9.1 percent increase for in-state undergraduates. But the regents rejected a student-sponsored proposal to match the rate of inflation by raising tuition only 2.7 percent.
As we noted in this space Monday, in-state tuition is still one of the better deals in the country for an institution of ASU’s size and quality. But the new increase means regents have raised instate tuition at the Tempe campus by more than 140 percent in the past decade, a startling number in just about any context.
The escalating costs have a dramatic impact. As the Tribune’s Ryan Gabrielson reported Wednesday, more than half of current ASU graduates are borrowing more for their education than they can afford to pay back while still in school. That’s up from 39 percent just five years earlier, and is among the highest increases among comparable universities across the nation.
College debt creates a variety of problems as graduates embark on their careers. Many have to delay retirement planning, as well as saving for emergencies and buying their first home. Extra debt in marriage often forces both partners to work at less desirable jobs to make ends meet.
We can’t miss the fact that these tuition increases haven’t stopped growth in ASU attendance. The university is larger than ever as it adds a downtown Phoenix campus and expands the Polytechnic branch at Williams Gateway Airport. But we recall our own college days, when young colleagues who took out tuition loans didn’t think far enough ahead to understand the burden facing them for the next 10 to 20 years.
The board of regents already must answer a lawsuit that questions whether it has forgotten the constitutional mandate to keep university tuition affordable. Some state lawmakers continue to push for a plan that would undermine the board’s independent authority to set tuition rates.
The regents could have shown they are listening to concerns by accepting the student proposal, instead of splitting the difference with the request from ASU president Michael Crow and declaring their hope that state lawmakers will provide more money next year for scholarships targeting low-income students.