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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Which thing is not like the other?

President Robert Shelton has released his recommendations for next year’s tuition to the Arizona Board of Regents. If approved, tuition and fees could reach nearly $9,000 for in-state undergraduate students, an increase of 31 percent, according to the Arizona Daily Star (“”UA tuition, fees may rise $2K,”” Feb. 20). As UA News reported Monday, President Shelton sent a memo to the ABOR that states, “”The University’s recommendation moves resident undergraduate tuition closer to the median of its peer universities.””

This list of “”peer institutions,”” which is determined by the ABOR, is constantly a part of the conversation about improving the UA and, especially, increasing the cost of attendance. But, this list includes schools like University of Michigan and University of California, Berkeley — schools to which the UA just can’t compare. It is meaningless and dishonest to justify an increase this colossal by comparing UA tuition to schools that are just better. Of course, this list reflects colleges to which the UA would like to compare, but we will need to change more than the price tag to compare to schools like Berkeley, the number one public school in the nation, according to US News & World Report.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, these peer institutions have consistently higher median test scores and a higher student retention rate by nearly 20 percent. Though the UA says on the admissions page that it offers “”the highest quality academic experience,”” only about 30 percent of undergraduate students earn a diploma within four years, according to the Education Trust.

No matter what we say in our brochures, the UA is ranked nearly 60 spots below the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and nearly 100 spots below UC Berkeley on the US News & World Report list of the best colleges. In order to be like these “”peer”” institutions, something more than the cost to attend must be changed. The UA’s professor-student ratio is poorer, the average grade point averages and test scores of the students is lower and the admissions are much less selective.

More highly ranked schools are academically better in most programs, and their tuition reflects that. If the UA is going to raise tuition by nearly a third next semester for the same or poorer standards of education, the students should demand a more convincing rationalization than, “”Well, Berkeley charges more than this.”” Well, Berkeley is a better school.

Schools like University of Washington and UNC Chapel Hill, which are more comparable to the UA, have tuitions that are a lower percentage of the area’s median household income, according to a report by the Resources Committee of the ABOR. As Becky Pallack pointed out on her Campus Correspondent blog for the Arizona Daily Star, though the tuition amount may be the same, “”the UA has a lot more needy students.””

As Pallack lists, 74 percent of first-time undergraduate students received financial aid, and 21 percent received Pell Grants, a need-based financial aid for low-income undergraduates. Clearly, the UA serves a community that can’t spend as much on higher education because the per-capita income in Arizona is much lower than in areas where “”peer”” institutions cost more.

According to the 2000 Census, Arizona ranks below both Washington and North Carolina in per capita income. The tuition of this university, which boasts a mission statement claiming to “”to provide the sons and daughters of Arizona families with access to a broad-based, high-quality … education,”” should reflect that.

In simple terms, for the UA to try to rationalize raising tuition by comparing itself to schools like Ohio State University is like Target trying to charge a colossal sum for a purse by claiming it’s just like that one at Neiman Marcus and should therefore cost the same.

Or, in a slightly manlier example, it’s like trying to charge the same price per ticket for a minor-league cricket match and a ticket for courtside seats to see the Suns. It just doesn’t compute, and a lot more than price would have to change to make one thing like the other. But, unlike the demand a consumer would have in those markets, students who are already enrolled in the UA have little choice in where their money goes and even less of a choice in how much of their money higher education is going to cost.

No matter what other schools in other states cost, the UA must serve the Arizona community by providing an education for which excellence is more than a buzzword and value is more than an idea.

—Anna Swenson is a sophomore majoring in English.

She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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