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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Regents could uncap tuition

    UA leaders listen to discussion from the Arizona Board of Regents Tuition Taskforce via teleconference with the Regents offices in Phoenix and Northern Arizona University.
    UA leaders listen to discussion from the Arizona Board of Regents Tuition Taskforce via teleconference with the Regents’ offices in Phoenix and Northern Arizona University.

    The Arizona Board of Regents Tuition Taskforce recommended that the board indefinitely waive the restriction to keep state university tuition at the top of the bottom one-third of its peer universities.

    The motion to recommend the proposal passed with a vote of six to five at Tuesday’s meeting held at the regents’ offices in Phoenix. The meeting was teleconferenced in the UA’s Harvill building and on Northern Arizona University’s campus.

    UA President Robert Shelton said the current restriction is simply an “”arbitrary number”” and does not compare the university’s tuition to it’s true peer universities.

    “”The peer group that we have is a nonsensical peer group – those 50 flagship universities – most of them have nothing in common with us,”” Shelton said after the meeting.

    UA Student Regent David Martinez III said if the “”top of the bottom one-third policy”” were revoked it would eliminate an important connection between university officials and students.

    “”Even though I am categorically opposed to that policy because of its arbitrary nature, I see that it did keep tuition low,”” Martinez said following the meeting. “”It was a process that held regents accountable and gave presidents a process in which to set tuition.””

    Raising tuition is irresponsible given the fact that national stimulus money had been designated to “”mitigate the need to raise tuition,”” he said.

    “”With the exemption to the ‘top of the bottom third’ policy there is no guidance for presidents in setting tuition, no accountability and there is no consideration about the federal stimulus package,”” Martinez said.

    Regent Robert Bulla, who is not a member of the tuition task force but attended the meeting, said it was important for the university system not to use incoming federal money as a crutch.

    “”It is very easy to get lulled to sleep with one-time money,”” Bulla said during the meeting. “”When you put one time money against longer term … obligations, such as salaries, you eventually have to pay the piper and if you don’t move into it (intelligently) you have a huge budget shortfall to tackle immediately or someday down the road.””

    Whether or not the ‘top of the bottom third’ exemption is approved, it is “”still an open question”” as to whether or not UA student tuition would increase, Shelton said. That would be decided at the April 30 board meeting, which will be held at the UA.

    “”The key will be whether the board approves any new tuition and or fees for fall ’09 and there is still a number of steps involved with that,”” Shelton said.

    “”The board would have to approve the motion to suspend their policy,”” he said. “”They would have to approve some new fees or tuition and while the former sounds like it may happen, the latter is still very much in play.””

    Arizona Board of Regents President Fred Boice said it is never a popular decision to raise tuition but sometimes it is the only choice.

    “”I don’t know of any regent who has ever wanted to raise tuition,”” Boice said to the task force. “”There are times when we have had to raise tuition and I think we have done it in an appropriate and cooperative way and I expect that that would continue.””

    The revocation of the ‘top of the bottom third’ requirement would leave the three state university presidents with no limits in regards to how high they could push tuition, Martinez said.

    “”There is no guidance for presidents in setting tuition (if the requirement is revoked), no accountability and there is no consideration about the federal stimulus package,”” Martinez said. “”At this point the sky is the limit, the presidents can increase tuition however they want. You could see increases in tuition and fees anywhere from zero to thousands of dollars.””

    Shelton said the most important thing that could come out of the proposal to eliminate the tuition cap is that the UA could establish a more realistic set of peer universities.

    “”Get the right peer group in and maybe you go to the top of the bottom third of that peer group, maybe you go to the median of that peer group,”” he said. “”At least get the right peer group in place so that it has some relevance to the schools we compete against for faculty, for students, for staff.””

    Task force member and Associated Students of the University of Arizona President-elect Chris Nagata said he fears the unpredictability of the tuition rate that this measure could allow.

    “”If this policy is suspended or exempted it really opens up the flood gates for uncontrolled fees and tuition setting in the unforeseeable future,”” Nagata said in the meeting. “”It leaves the students without a future framework as for how tuition and fees would be set in the future.””

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