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Increased numbers pressure colleges’ budgets

The Associated Press


The Associated Press

Increased enrollments at Arizona’s state universities are exacerbating the task of administrators trying to stretch budgets drastically trimmed because of the worst recession in decades.

All three universities had record-high enrollments in the fall term. Northern Arizona University repeated that in the spring semester and the University of Arizona and Arizona State University are expected to also set records when official tallies are completed for the spring, officials said.

All three are also making major cuts, resulting in some larger classes and layoffs. Late last month, the Legislature approved $141.5 million in university cuts as part of a midyear budget fix designed to close a $1.6 billion state budget shortfall.

In all, the Legislature has now slashed $191.5 million of a total $1.13 billion it appropriated for all three universities in the 2008-09 fiscal year.

“We can’t get better and we can’t fulfill our fiduciary responsibility (to educate all qualified Arizona high school graduates) if we’re starved of state support,” Arizona Board of Regents President Fred Boice said Wednesday.

ASU officials announced $88 million in spending cuts this week and said the budget deficit fix forced it to impose a first-ever unspecified enrollment cap and close about 48 academic programs. President Michael Crow also ordered scaled-back operations on two campuses and a March deadline for new applicants.

Ashley Hyne, a UA sophomore from Chicago, said the budget woes are having a big impact.

“Getting classes has been difficult,” she said. “Class availability is going to go down, there will be more large classes.” She fears not getting into courses she’ll need to graduate in four years, yet can’t afford to stay longer.

Still, Arizona’s cost was far less than a comparable education closer to home, Hyne said. “I didn’t even apply in the Midwest because the schools were so expensive.”

UA officials estimate 35,500 to 35,600 students are enrolled now versus 34,737 a year ago. Official numbers won’t be available for a few more days at Arizona or at ASU, which had 59,871 students at all its campuses last spring, nearly 1,100 above spring 2007. NAU’s total spring enrollment, 21,413, is 5.9 percent higher than last spring’s 20,224.

“We’re doing everything we can,” said Rick Kroc, UA’s associate vice provost for institutional research and planning, “We have budgeted to meet the spring demand as best we can.”

UA’s cuts include about 600 jobs, many outreach and community-based activities and reducing its academic colleges from 16 to 13. Class sizes have increased, more adjunct professors are being used and faculty is being asked to teach more, Kroc said.

NAU has left more than 100 positions unfilled and is using more nontenure-track professors. Yet its spring enrollment increased about 9 percent, with nonresidents up more than 10 percent from a year ago – more than double the increase among in-state students.

“The tuition is still considered a bargain,” said NAU spokeswoman Lisa Nelson. That and NAU’s pledge to keep rates the same from the time freshmen start help explain why the university is attractive to out-of-state students, she said.

Freshmen Arizona residents enrolled at NAU pay tuition and fees of $2,725 this semester, while nonresident rates are $8,274 for first-semester freshmen. ASU and UA rates are slightly higher.

UA is seeing a modest reduction in out-of-state applications and admissions, but budget problems in California “could mean that we’ll have a strong yield of California students,” Kroc said.

Tommy Bruce, president of the Associated Students of the University of Arizona, said limiting enrollment would undercut the universities’ responsibility to educate Arizona’s students.

But they are public institutions “barely supported by the Legislature,” whose members have “spoken very loudly that it’s not of value to them,” Bruce said.

Enrollment increases pressure cash-strapped Arizona universities

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