By Matt Gray
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday, February 15, 2005
It's that time of year again. Time for the Arizona Board of Regents to start playing "Let's Make a Deal" to hammer out next year's tuition hike. The board will take input from everyone - or at least claim they did - but, in the end, the fate of nearly every college student in Arizona is in the hands of our friends of the Board.
Unfortunately, when it comes to higher education in Arizona, the three state universities are the only game in town. There are a few other schools, like Grand Canyon or Prescott College, but no other major universities. That sets Arizona apart from most of the country, and not in a good way.
On the other hand, the East Coast is filled with private universities that give residents a wide variety of options. The best examples are New York, which has upwards of 20 major universities, and Boston, which has even more. Sure, those areas got a historical head start, but Arizona still lags among its peers out West. Los Angeles rivals New York, and San Diego, which is smaller than Phoenix, has five major universities of its own.
This leaves Arizona's state universities in an educational vacuum. While the board of regents may not have been designed to be the head of a monopoly, that is what it has become. Arizona students wanting a serious education must either come under the regents' umbrella or leave the state. This situation hurts both the students and the regents.
All students should be able to choose from more than one educational philosophy. Diverse opportunities allow people to choose an institution that best fits their needs. Anyone from Los Angeles can tell you that the campuses of USC, UCLA and Pepperdine are all very different, and that each one provides something that the others do not.
Beyond that, sometimes the state universities simply don't have enough resources to provide for all the state's residents. Arizonans only have two accredited options for law school, one for medical school and none if they want to become veterinarians. Likewise, those who feel a spiritual calling are often called to other states: Arizona schools can't offer theology programs or seminaries because of concerns over the Constitution.
On the other hand, the board is faced with the challenging task of being everything to everyone. Its members have to find ways to accommodate those who want a prestigious education as well as those who want to do the smallest amount of work possible to get a degree. The regents have to continually find ways to make postsecondary education a real possibility for all Arizonans, while still maintaining standards that are high enough that the state's best and brightest don't flee en masse to better schools.
It's time for state officials to seriously consider economic incentives to encourage the creation of major private universities in Arizona. The population is ripe for it. Phoenix is already America's fifth-largest city, and Arizona is one of the fastest-growing states in the nation. Education choices that provide a true reflection of the potential of this state are long overdue.
These new universities would not threaten the UA, Arizona State or Northern Arizona University. While they would certainly provide some competition and lead to even more innovation from our state schools, the centuries-old tradition of public higher education in Arizona would continue as strong as ever. In fact, if the board of regents could point next door to the cost of tuition at a private school, these recent tuition increases certainly wouldn't look so bad. Instead, new universities would simply mean that more students would be going to college in Arizona, from both in- and out-of-state. A greater pool of educated people would help both the economy and the general quality of life.
Imagine if students interested in mathematics or computer science could choose to attend the Arizona Institute of Technology, a prestigious technical university. Think about how our local community could benefit from the new rivalry between the UA and Tucson University.
The state government has done a fine job of creating a large network of universities and community colleges throughout Arizona, but there are some great aspects of higher education are out of reach for state schools. Therefore, we should create more options for Arizona students. The people of Arizona deserve real alternatives in higher education as soon as possible.
Matt Gray is a second-year law student. He can be reached at email@example.com.