Gov. Jan Brewer eased next year’s hit on the pocketbooks of university students – but her high-handed demand for an overhaul of the higher education system leaves a lot to be desired.
The state Board of Regents decided this week that university students will have to pay more – much more – in tuition next year. But the boost was less than it could have been because of unilateral action by Brewer.
In-state undergraduates at the University of Arizona will pay a $766 tuition surcharge this fall – on top of a $545 increase in tuition and fees. That $1,311 one-year increase is the largest in state history.
But it could have been worse. The surcharge was cut by 30 percent after Brewer said she would allocate $280 million in federal stimulus money to the universities.
While that did provide immediate aid, it delayed the inevitable. Some 40 percent of the stimulus money can be spent in fiscal 2010 and the remaining 60 percent in fiscal 2011. When that one-time infusion is spent, the universities will be back in a deep financial hole.
“We have deferred the harder decision,” said Regent Fred DuVal.
And while Brewer’s decision to allocate more stimulus money to the universities was helpful, the same cannot be said for her demand that the regents revamp the university system to create more affordable options for students who do not need to attend a research-intensive school.
Brewer made her demand in the 20 minutes she swept in and out of the regents’ meeting Thursday. She is an ex officio member of the board but had not previously attended a meeting in her three months as governor.
The regents, and the presidents of all three state universities, are and have been looking at more affordable ways to educate students – including more online classes and working with community colleges to offer the first two years of classes to reduce the cost of a four-year degree.
But Brewer told the regents, “By this fall, I want a new business model that is accountable, predictable and affordable to taxpayers, parents and students.”
Well, that’s fine, but Brewer needs to do more than throw up a utopian dream and demand that it become reality in a few months.
And if she wants higher education that is affordable to students – which is required in the Arizona Constitution – she needs to take the lead in persuading the Legislature to stop slashing state support for the universities.
Yes, Gov. Brewer, a university education in Arizona is too expensive. But don’t just issue fiats, then walk away. Get down and do the work necessary to make change happen.