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Proposed bill may stabilize tuition

By Bob Purvis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, January 20, 2004
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Current students would be 'grandfathered' into old rates if tuition rises

PHOENIX - A Phoenix lawmaker is pushing legislation that would guarantee full-time students stable tuition rates and make across-the-board tuition hikes for Arizona undergraduates illegal.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, would make tuition increases solely applicable to the UA's incoming class, and let students enrolled in at least 12 credit hours the semester before a tuition or fee increase attend school at the cheaper rate.

McCune Davis, whose daughter graduated from Arizona State University in December, called last year's tuition increase burdensome to middle-class families and unaffordable for working students.

"I'd like last year's increase to be an exception to the rule," McCune Davis said. "I keep hearing about more tuition increases, and all I can think is thank goodness Napolitano is finished."

The 40 percent in-state tuition hike approved by the Arizona Board of Regents last March drew groans and protests from many UA students who felt it was excessive. A lawsuit from a group of students who said it violated the state constitution's requirement that instruction at state schools be "as nearly free as possible."

You are going to have students sitting in the same class paying different tuition. In my opinion, that's not fair.

- Melanie Rainer
ASUA executive vice president


The Board of Regents has been steadfast in its quest to get the UA's tuition on par with the top of the bottom one-third percentile of the nation's top 50 public universities. President Peter Likins announced last week that he would ask the regents to approve another $500 increase next year.

With another steep increase on the horizon, McCune Davis says it is time for the Legislature to act before tuition hikes limit access to public institutions and deter working students from finishing higher education.

"I think in the long run it is better to think about it prospectively and be more sensitive when planning enrollment increases," McCune Davis said.

McCune Davis said she has heard from parents, and students who have struggled to come up with the money to cover the additional tuition costs.

"It adds a significant burden to the parents and that is a lot of dollars to come up with for a student if you are working and only making 9 dollars an hour," McCune Davis said.

Associated Students of the University of Arizona officials looked closely at the "grandfathering" concept before deciding against it.

Ultimately, ASUA decided that a policy like the one outlined in McCune Davis' bill would increase administrative costs and cause logistical headaches at the Bursar's Office, where tuition would vary by thousands of dollars from student to student, said Melanie Rainer, ASUA executive vice president.

"I don't think that having it not be across the board makes it more fair," Rainer said. "I think it is sort of a quick fix for the state Legislature. ... The real issue is that state funding is constantly getting cut to the universities."

Rainer points to Likins' intentions to raise tuition again as an example of flawed logic in the tuition exemption bill.

"You are going to have students sitting in the same class paying different tuition. In my opinion, that's not fair," Rainer said. "I just don't really feel that grandfathering is a realistic solution."

But some students welcome the relief that stable tuition would bring.

"It seems fair, because some people have to work and the increase comes as a shock. Suddenly, their savings don't matter," said Dominique Leitner, a molecular and cellular biology freshman.

Amanda Davis, an ecology and evolutionary biology freshman, works two jobs and has taken out student loans in order to pay for tuition.

"I don't want to be forced to pay more money. I chose the school based on certain factors, including money. When tuition goes up, I feel trapped. My parents would like to help me pay, but financially they just can't," she said.

Likins said that although similar legislation has been proposed in other states, it rarely survives because it would simply push the weight of revenue collection on the shoulders of the incoming class.

"They don't work because you would need a much more dramatic tuition increase for the freshman class," Likins said.

Likins said that under the proposed law, freshmen would have been forced to absorb a $4,000 tuition increase to balance the university budget while grandfathering.

Sarah Perry, a computer science junior, said the burden placed on freshmen would be unfair.

"I don't understand the law. It seems to punish the freshmen and may discourage them from coming to the UA," she said.

Likins said he understands McCune Davis' concerns for middle-class families, but said last year's hikes came because the Board of Regents kept tuition rates stagnant for years as it waited for state funding that would never return.

"At Arizona, they held the tuition until it became the lowest in America," Likins said. "Our regents tried to catch up in one dramatic move."

Likins also said that if passed, the bill wouldn't get a chance to save students from a major spike in tuition costs like last year's. Students will get more "modest" percentage increases in the future after the $500 increase takes the UA to the regents' target tuition rate, he said.

- Natasha Bhuyan contributed to this report.

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