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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Arizona education may turn to federal government

    ASU President Michael Crow leaned in to a red and blue microphone on Friday and told the Arizona Board of Regents what educators see as an insult added to a laundry list of financial injuries.

    “”I was recently speaking with a state legislator, who will go unnamed, who wondered why Pell Grants were important to us,”” Crow recalled.

    The anecdotal story of ignorance comes just a day after almost 1,000 concerned business leaders, UA staff and students crammed into the Student Union Memorial Center’s North Ballroom donned in black shirts of mourning to let the Regents know just how concerned they were by the prospect of a proposed 40 percent cut to Arizona universities.

    What may be just as troubling is the uncertain prospect of whether the Arizona State Legislature will remain receptive during the current budget crisis that could cut $600 million, an outlook that has forced Arizona’s three public universities to team up against “”the death of higher education in Arizona,”” said Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona.

    “”We realize that we are one university system, and if we are to come out of this storm stronger, we have to work as one cohesive unit and not as three separate universities,”” said David Martinez, student regent for the Board. “”So we are bringing that to the table, working as one united body.””

    With the financial troubles of the UA, Northern Arizona University and Arizona State University at odds with the state legislature, the trio of money-strapped schools may have no choice other than to turn to a higher authority-the federal government, Regent Fred DuVal said.

    President Barack Obama’s administration has already begun pushing Capitol Hill to pass a new economic stimulus package, as well as measures that would include initiatives for higher education, DuVal said.

    The measures could include funding suggestions from higher education leaders, including: $15 million in research funds to focus on technology, energy efficiency and health sciences; $500 million in Pell Grant increases; and $5 billion in tuition tax credits.

    The Board also discussed the possibility of simplifying the application process for financial aid by eliminating the Free Application for Federal Student Aid forms. Instead, students and their families would use their already-existing tax documents in the financial aid process, although such a move is only currently in the idea phase.

    Amid the budget crisis, President Robert Shelton touted the UA’s efforts in financial responsibility by developing proper appropriations via key funding agencies.

    “”Some examples you are well aware of are $400-plus million in…funding for the Mars Lander…(and) the Department of Homeland Security Center of Excellence in Border Security,”” Shelton said.

    Recent funding successes also include solar funding, the UA Mirror Lab and the disabled veterans program at the UA Disability Resource Center, he added.

    The successes of the past will not necessarily save Arizona higher education from the future, though, as the current economic situation will force all institution to buckle down their finances, Martinez said.

    “”We continue to work with (the state legislature) daily to make sure they hear that message and incorporate into the budget cuts numbers that won’t completely devastate our university or the future of Arizona,”” he said. “”With that, we also realize that there have to be cuts, and we have already taken a proactive stance in cutting $50 million for the fiscal year. We’re obviously looking at making more cuts and meeting the legislators half way to make sure we do what’s best for the state of Arizona in this difficult economic climate.””

    The economic financial crisis is not simply a problem for education. It is an issue that all Arizonans need to address together, Bruce said.

    “”We’re all in this together. We’re all in the same boat,”” Martinez said. “”And if we remain strong, we’ll weather this storm.””

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