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Likins defends university's rating


By Joe Ferguson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, September 21, 2004
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President Peter Likins said a recent report that gave the UA a failing grade in affordability was based on old data and the UA has made strides in the last few years to improve financial aid to its students.

The report by The National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education gave Arizona's higher education system a grade of F on affordability in its biennial report card. The report was released Sept. 15.

The report, called "Measuring Up 2004," indicated whether students could afford to pay for higher education by comparing tuition levels at state colleges and universities with median income levels and available financial aid.

Fifty percent of the grade in the report was based on a family's ability to pay for tuition. The report looked at the combined costs of tuition, room and board for students attending four-year institutions in Arizona.

Likins said the data used for the report card was from fiscal year 2003. The data painted the UA in an unfair light, highlighting a period when the UA was not offering much financial aid to students but had one of the lowest tuition rates in the country, Likins said.

"Our tuition was the lowest in America," Likins said. "But our financial aid was really lousy. That is why we got an F. Not because our tuition was high."

During the 2002-2003 school year, tuition for resident undergraduates was $2,583. This year's tuition is $4,062.

While resident tuition at the UA has gone up 63 percent since 2002, Likins said the UA has dramatically increased financial aid to its students.

The state also contributed to the dismal rating of its colleges and universities by not contributing to need-based financial aid, Likins said.

A portion of the report called "Strategies for Affordability" measured funding set aside in-state funds for need-based financial aid. This amount was compared to the federal funding for need-based financial aid. In Arizona, there was no state funding.

Likins said the lack of funding from the state hurt the state's rating, and the UA plans on asking the Legislature to set aside money for need-based financial aid.

If the report card were based on today's numbers, Likins is confident the UA would fare better in the report.

"I think we would have better results," Likins said.

Arizona Regent Chris Herstam agreed the lack of funding from the state was detrimental to the state's rating.

"The state does nothing for financial aid," Herstam said.

Herstam said he believes the report card results are skewed due to the inclusion of the private University of Phoenix. He said the mixture of non-profit and for-profit institutions in the same report distorts financial aid information for the state.

"It's like apples and oranges," said Herstam.

Herstam has recently introduced a proposal to the Board of Regents that would create several new universities in the state. The primary purposes of creating several free-standing universities would be smaller class sizes and lower tuition.

"They would offer more options to students and families," Herstam said.



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