All over the state, parents and students are rallying against proposed budget cuts to Arizona’s public colleges and universities.
Instead of focusing ire at legislators, who are literally between a rock and a hard place, there’s another avenue these newly minted activists could pursue.
For Arizonans concerned about increasing access to postsecondary education, why not focus on loosening up state regulations that are choking higher education’s private sector?
Numerous laws make it a crime to open a private postsecondary or vocational school in Arizona without state approval. These laws result in fewer schools and fewer opportunities for students and educators.
Legislators could embrace academic freedom by deregulating private schooling and let the market work.
Arizona pervasively criminalizes entrepreneurs who teach or open a school without government approval. It is a Class 3 misdemeanor to open a private postsecondary school that offers a degree of any kind without approval from the state Board for Private Postsecondary Schooling.
Osteopaths and medical doctors cannot teach without a license. Private cosmetology and radiologic technology schools cannot legally open their doors without approval from state agencies.
The regulation of nursing schools is a particularly outrageous case in point. Despite the shortage of health care workers in this state and elsewhere, Arizona law makes it a Class 6 felony to open a nursing school without approval from the state Board of Nursing.
The risk of jail time for teaching nursing even extends to out-of-state schools that want to offer Arizonans the option of distance learning.
There is no need for these draconian laws, because private postsecondary or vocational schools are self-regulating. To compete with other schools and qualify for national accreditation, just about every school voluntarily meets minimum educational standards.
Arizona’s heavy-handed regulation does nothing to promote quality or prevent fraud. It only stops the free market from giving students and educators viable alternatives to the taxpayer-funded public university and community college system.
And by fostering an artificial scarcity of educational options, the regulation of private schooling magnifies any pain associated with the loss of public funding for higher education.
Such regulation also strangles academic freedom, amounting to an unconstitutional prior restraint on the First Amendment right to teach, hear, learn and know. Fortunately, the solution is simple.
Arizonans can have it all: access to an excellent higher education without abandoning fiscal responsibility. All the state needs to do is decriminalize private schooling, and let people freely teach and learn.
Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and directs its Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.