Editorial: Students missing big picture on tuition
In a rare demonstration of political activism, the Arizona Students Association, our student-funded, student lobbying group, has put its atrophied muscles behind a proposal to limit student tuition hikes. Tired of being ignored by the Arizona Board of Regents, these young politicos have appealed to their bosses, the state legislature, for tuition relief.
The proposal, HB 2338, would cap any tuition increase at inflation plus 1 percent per year. Proponents, including ASA members and sponsor Rep. Mike Gardner, R-Tempe, argue the bill is necessary to restrict the board from capitulating to the financial whims of university presidents who consistently call for higher tuition to cover the costs of improving a public higher education system that is, at best, under-funded by the state legislature.
At first glance, this proposed law appears to be the answer to the prayers of student leaders who have found, as ASA Director Adam Talenfeld has said, even their most effective regent-lobbying campaigns rebuffed.
Over student objections this fall, the regents approved a 4.7 percent tuition increase recommended by President Peter Likins. The increase amounts to $100 for in-state students and $300 for out-of-state students. That increase is part of Likins' overall plan to move Arizona university tuitions from the basement of public institutions to the first floor in hopes of securing the financial futures of the schools.
Student officialdom's support of the bill, Talenfeld told the Arizona Daily Wildcat, amounts to a rejection of Likins' plans. In fact, Talenfeld said, the proposal should spark a debate over what the quality of the university education the state offers should be. Talenfeld rightly pointed out that the legislature and the higher education community have very different ideas on what that quality should mean. The looming battle over university budgets is testament to the difference.
Against that background, the student-supported HB 2338 seems, at best, a misguided attempt to address the very real financial difficulties of students by selling the university system down the river to the same legislators Talenfeld and others are so bitterly fighting over proposed budget cuts. Our student leaders have in effect declared the enemy of my enemy is my enemy.
The board is charged by statute with the "powers necessary for the effective governance and administration of the institutions under its control." Among the powers the legislative creators of the board saw as important was the ability to "fix tuitions and fees." Constitutionally, those processes should be "as nearly free as possible." An extraordinarily reasonable reading of the Arizona Constitution by the regents says "nearly free" demands tuition remain in the lower third of tuitions nationwide. Under those terms and with less than acceptable help from the state government, the UA and other schools have worked to create top-rated institutions, universities with degrees that will look attractive on Talenfeld's resume.
Make no mistake, HB 2338 is a radical stripping of the regents' powers and as such works against the goals of the university and the students themselves. The bill might as well eliminate the body in favor of direct legislative oversight. The legislature is no friend of the university system, said Talenfeld, ASUA President Tara Taylor and other pizza protesters yesterday during their mall demonstration. Why then should we as students support a measure to surrender total control of the university funding process to an anti-education legislature? Maybe we're just stupid.