The Arizona State Constitution makes an important comment about what residents should pay for higher education. It reads, higher education should be as "nearly free as possible." Currently "as nearly free as possible" is interpreted as $1,828 per year, the in-state registration fee for 1994-95.
I agree with many others that $1,828 is not even close to free, but in this world, free tuition is not a realistic possibility. The issue then becomes access. Are tuition and fees so unreasonable that they place unnecessary burdens on most students? Does financial aid exist for those who simply cannot afford the tuition rates? The current system is lacking in both areas.
Now tuition and fees are determined without any structure or predictability. In the last 10 years, there was one year with no tuition hike and there were several other years with more than 10 percent increases. Students have no way of knowing how much their tuition will increase until rates are set just before summer vacation.
The lack of time to prepare is important because there may be a significant increase like the $250 hike for the 1993-94 school year which left students scrambling to find the extra money. The current system is like agreeing to let a mechanic fix your car without knowing how much he is going to charge you.
When people buy a house they know what their mortgage payments will be for the next 20 years allowing them to plan to make those payments. The homeowners know the mortgage rate and can budget each year. Similiarly, students sign an informal contract when they enter this university to pay each year so they can be educated and finally receive a diploma.
Unlike the mortgage payment, however, students have no idea what the cost will be each year. I know of no other consumer that agrees to such terms. Students, among the least economically powerful groups in society, don't have the opportunity to plan to pay for the most important "product" they consume Ä education.
A brief discussion of the reasons for tuition and fee increases is important. Most of the university's budget comes from the State Legislature. Tuition and fees account for roughly 20 percent of the university's operating budget. Large tuition increases occur because the part of the budget that comes the Legislature is less than expected and the university is faced with the choice of cutting more programs than expected or raising tuition to make up the difference.
Based on the research I've done, it is unfair to characterize President Pacheco or the Arizona Board of Regents as conspiring to gouge students' pocketbooks. If our Legislature funded the universities to a greater degree each year, tuition increases would be kept to a minimum. That is why it is so important for student to vote, work and convince their elders to vote for candidates who recognize the positive investment that is education.
That, however, is an issue for another column. The current system is not a malicious plan, but it is flawed and in need of repair.
A chance to repair the system begins today on our campus when an important committee meets. At the request of the Arizona Students' Association, the board has established the Campbell Commission to analyze students' costs and financial aid. The commission consists of three members of the board, the three state university presidents and the three main-campus student body presidents.
The commission will make recommendations to the regents in December that could drastically change policy towards tuition and fees, financial aid and scholarships. Today in Tucson they will discuss tuition and fees. Each member has been presented with a "managed" tuition proposal by the Arizona Students' Association that will provide predictability for students. Other plans with the same purpose will likely be discussed.
The Arizona Students' Association proposal would set a percentage increase limit, or ceiling, for in-state and out-of-state tuition increases. The intent of the plan is that the ceiling will not be exceeded from year to year. If the ceiling is exceeded, however, the plan requires that newly created student financial need be covered by either the universities or requested from the legislature with the support from the regents and the universities.
This plan would require the regents to not raise tuition over a certain limit. If they do, then they must find a way to cover the financial need caused by the tuition increase.
The Campbell Commission presents an unique opportunity for students. In order for any managed tuition plan to be successful, however, students (not to mention their parents) must voice their support to the UA Administration and regents. If you want to begin to voice your support, the commission meets today at 3 p.m. in the regents' room on the seventh floor of the Administration Building.
If students want to be able to plan paying for their higher education, we must make the effort to create such a system.
Ben Driggs is a Latin American studies and economics senior. He is the UA director of the Arizona Students' Association. He encourages all students to attend a student-sponsored gubernatorial candidates debate tonight at the Harvill Building in Room 211 at 7 p.m.
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