Regents this year approved the second-largest tuition increase in state history and laid the foundation for a plan that could reform the means through which universities are funded.
The two initiatives came in the second year of Changing Directions, a statewide plan to allow the UA, Arizona State University and Northern Arizona University to pursue their own missions.
Though the changes passed this year weren't as dramatic as those approved in the previous school year, which saw the passage of a $1,000 tuition increase and a dramatic restructuring of university admissions procedures, they nonetheless demonstrated that Arizona's universities are moving beyond a period of financial crisis and into an era of rebuilding.
As recently as two years ago, the universities were facing millions of dollars in budget cuts with no plans for protecting themselves from future declines in state allocations. But this year marked the second year in a fundamental mindset shift.
Now, the universities are taking more responsibility than ever for ensuring their own success, asking students to foot a higher portion of the bill for their education and rethinking their strategies for asking state legislators for money.
The $490 resident tuition hike the Arizona Board of Regents approved in March was the most visible evidence of this trend, but it was also coupled with a promise from President Peter Likins to further increase the amount of money set aside to offer needy students financial aid.
Likins promised that at least 15 percent of the revenue generated from the tuition hike would go toward aid, up from the 14 percent floor he promised last year. That's the best way to make the university affordable for needy students, administrators and regents said.
"I used to believe that a low tuition was the best form of financial aid. But over the last seven years, I have learned that doesn't work," said Student Regent Danelle Kelling, an ASU law
student who earned her undergraduate degree in Arizona as well.
Regents also raised out-of-state tuition by $700.
Likins and regents have said they want to see tuition keep pace with the 33rd percentile of comparable public universities around the country, and this year's increase brings the UA to just a few dollars shy of that level.
Likins has said that in coming years, tuition increases will likely be smaller, incremental increases that keep pace with the market.
The board of regents also spent the spring semester devising a new means for funding universities, which are now given money by the state depending largely on an increase in student headcount.
About two weeks ago, regents approved a proposal that would couple funding for growth with incentives for improving graduation rates and an increased taxpayer contribution to student financial aid.
Over the next year, the universities will lobby legislators and Gov. Janet Napolitano to follow those new guidelines, which officials say could generate revenue for the universities even as some of them are forced to cap enrollment.
"We want a high-quality university and quality costs money," ASU President Michael Crow said.
Napolitano has expressed support for these ideas, though one of her aides warned recently that the state may not be able to immediately make financial aid contributions as high as the state would like.
Legislators on both sides of the aisle also backed the plans, in concept, but some said that limited revenue would force them to protect primary and secondary education before the universities.
"When you're 18, you're an adult. If I'm forced to make a decision because of tight finances over who I'm going to help more, I'm going to err on the side of the kids," said Sen. Jim Waring, the Republican vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee.