Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 3, 1998

Regents avoided tuition mess

This is what could have happened yesterday: Every student could be paying as much as 5 percent more for tuition next year, based solely on what the university presidents deem as their priorities and what the Arizona Board of Regents agrees with. The rates would have been set before the board had any idea of what money the universities would get from the state Legislature.

Instead, the regents decided to postpone the tuition-setting process until the Legislature makes its appropriation. This was the right move by the Board.

Establishing tuition before the state Legislature set its budget would have made the regents, as one of their own put it, insurance brokers. They could set tuition high just in case the Legislature doesn't come through to cover their "priorities" and let students deal with the expenses.

The regents have a policy governing the tuition-setting process, but the unique situation of an unfinished state budget made the policy unclear. The state budget, usually set by mid-March, has been held up due to controversy in public school building funding.

According to the Amos Tuition Setting Process, regents must set tuition after the legislative appropriation, but also during their April meeting. Either way they were going to break policy but they chose to do it the right way.

Arizona university tuition increases are based on university president recommendations and costs not covered by the state. Obviously, half of that equation would not be accounted for yesterday. UA President Peter Likins based his recommendation of a 5 percent increase on minimum needs, technology improvements and financial aid.

The state Legislature is unpredictable, and funding could go in several ways when the legislators finally do get around to higher education appropriation.

If the regents had voted on a tuition increase, the Legislature might have seen the tuition hike as sufficient to cover the president's recommendations and allotted less money to the universities. Less money means could mean more cutbacks and university, student-oriented programs typically get axed first.

Or the Legislature might have ignored the tuition hike altogether. Imagine if the Legislature was feeling especially frivolous with its ($500) million surplus and gave the universities much of what they requested. There would be less of a shortfall, which tuition increases typically cover, and setting tuition after this appropriation was established may have resulted in a smaller increase.

It's not too much to ask to know what we'll be paying in the fall before the end of spring semester, but setting tuition blindly only hits students where it hurts the most ­ in the pocketbook.

Students would rather wait a few extra weeks to get their bill than pay a lot of extra bucks because of uninformed board members.


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