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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

“Editorial: Rising tuition, falling financial aid not quite constitutional”

According to Arizona’s constitution, “”The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be nearly as free as possible.”” Well, one out of two isn’t too awful, especially if you ask the Arizona Board of Regents.

Typically, tuition is determined according to a policy that requires tuition to be set at the top of the bottom third of university peers.

Last year, after drastic budget cuts, the regents made an exception and set tuition at the median level of university peers, creating a 20 percent hike in tuition costs.

Right now, the UA and Arizona State University are above the bottom third, while Northern Arizona University is just below. According to the normal policy, UA and ASU tuition would have to decrease, which the regents won’t have happen.

The exception expires this month, and the regents will have to find a new policy for setting tuition.

While students have to recognize that “”nearly as free as possible”” should mean exactly what it says, with an emphasis on “”as possible,”” the regents must evaluate possible tuition-setting policies very carefully.

A student’s ability to pay for higher education is affected by a number of factors beyond the cost of tuition: These include the price of other mandatory fees, housing and books, income, and federal and state-based financial aid.

According to Arizona Daily Star reporter Becky Pallack, the UA spent $234 million on student scholarships and grants last fiscal year. This is three times what it spent in 2005. But tuition is also up 83 percent from what it was five years ago, and significantly more UA students are eligible for financial aid than were years ago. This fall, 38 percent of Arizona students qualified for federal Pell grants, nearly twice as much as the number of students who did two years ago.

As the UA continues to struggle with Gov. Jan Brewer’s proposal to cut $67 million in funding (on top of a $100 million loss over the past few years), it is difficult to see how the UA will be able to provide enough financial aid against continued rising tuition costs. Past cuts have already been made to much of the university, and there are few other places to cut besides jobs and financial aid.

It doesn’t take a bachelor’s degree to predict what could happen if financial aid goes down while tuition continues to go up.

According to the board’s mission statement, the regents are “”committed to ensuring access for qualified residents of Arizona to undergraduate and graduate institutions; promoting the discovery, application, and dissemination of new knowledge; … and maximizing the benefits derived from the state’s investment in education.”” It’s not too much to ask that the regents follow through.

In the middle of economic turmoil and budget cuts, it would be unrealistic for students to expect tuition to stay the same. We wish it would, or, better yet, that it would go down. But we also wish we were graduating tomorrow and that the cast of “”Jersey Shore”” would just go away. Unrealistic.

The decisions faced by the Board of Regents are not easy ones, and are surely not being made recklessly. Still, it is perfectly realistic and incredibly necessary for students to expect the regents to carefully weigh the methods they use for determining tuition.

The policy of setting tuition according to the median level of peer institutions doesn’t and won’t work. The UA’s “”peers”” include universities like the University of California, Los Angeles and Pennsylvania State University. Of most peer institutions, the UA has a higher acceptance rate, higher rates of students who qualify for financial aid and a lower retention rate.

Why should we spend like our “”peers””? Are they expected to abide by state constitutional clauses like, “”instruction … shall be nearly as free possible””?

— Editorials are determined by the Daily Wildcat editorial board and written by one of its members. They are Kristina Bui, Ken Contrata, Michelle A. Monroe and Heather Price-Wright. They can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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