19 April 2009

"As Nearly Free As Possible"

This morning, I picked up on a news article on AZCentral titled "Amid State Tuition Increases, Cries of Constitutional Foul," and I felt compelled to comment on it. Something I didn't know before happens to be that the Arizona State Constitution, when discussing higher education costs, incudes the following phrase: "The university and all other state educational institutions shall be open to students of both sexes, and the instruction furnished shall be as nearly free as possible." - Art. 11, Sec. 6 The key phrase being "as nearly free as possible." Even to the average layman, who isn't a constitutional scholar, that phrase implies that college tuition should be affordable for all those who choose to attend universities. Even now, ASU and the Arizona Board of Regents, and to some extent UA and NAU, are jacking up fees and surcharges and tuition rates in order to attract more students, better professors, build better buildings, etc. All in the middle of a deep recession where the Legislature is threatening to cut higher education funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. For example, ASU President Michael Crow - not a well-liked person among Arizona educational circles by any means - is proposing a 33% tuition hike for 2009-10 for students. According to the ASU tuition website, that means that the average tuition (which varies depending on when you got accepted to ASU) is $3003.00 for an Arizona resident, and over $9000.00 for a non-resident. An increase of 33% (one-third) means that next year, residents could be paying $4000.00 per semester for tuition, and non residents over $12,000! At UA, a full-time resident student will pay $2772.00 this Spring semester in tuition and fees, while a non-resident will pay $9339.00. Add in the 30% hike UA plans on, and you get numbers of $3603.60 and $12,140.70 respectively. NAU's proposed 21% hike is no better: $3158 up from $2610 for residents and $9406 up from $7774. These proposed hikes could put Arizona above the national average, which according to USA Today, stands at $6,585.00 per year (if the proposed hikes are instituted, it would put tuition at $8008, $7206, and $6316 per year from ASU, UA, and NAU respectively). All of this begs two obvious questions: first, is the Arizona Board of Regents (ABOR) violating the Arizona Constitution by continuing to hike fees, surcharges, and tuition costs? The Arizona State Supreme Court decided in Kromko v Arizona Board of Regents (2007) that the question represented a "non-justiciable" lawsuit, and declined to decide the case. What that means is that the case represented "a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department; or a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it." In other words, since there are no standards out there to measure what "nearly free" and "as possible" are, the court could not rule on the case. This brings up question two: what does "as nearly free as possible" imply? First and foremost, it implies that tuition rates will be set at a reasonable level: according to statutes, that level can be no higher than the highest amount of the bottom third of similar universities or colleges, though the Legislature can change this any time they like. Personally, I also take the "nearly free as possible" clause to mean that the schools will not be hiking tuition to pay for anything not essential to their charge as educational institutions. Did NAU really need to install the state's first Platinum LEED-certified building at extraordinary cost to students? The building, one of the three "greenest" in the world due to it's 60-out-of-69 point rating, cost $26 million to build, 10% higher cost than regular construction. All I can say is that if Arizona doesn't quit hiking tuition rates, our public schools won't be the only failing part of Arizona's education system.


  1. An amazing thing happened on the way to the stimulus package. President Obama and Congress have significantly altered and simplified the Hope Credit, which was designed to help low income families.

    In the tax years 2009 and 2010, the credit has been expanded and now benefits most low income and middle class families who are looking for help with their education

    Plan features

    1.) Eligibility limit for the full credit is for individual with and adjusted gross income of less than $80,000, and $160,000 for married couples and families. The credit phases out for individuals and families who earn more.
    2.) The credit is available for the first four years of college
    3.) 100% of the first $2,000 spent on qualified educational expenses including fees, tuition and books is given back to the taxpayer as a dollar for dollar reduction in taxes…in other words, when you pay for the first $2,000 of education, its like your are paying $2,000 toward your taxes.
    4.) 25% of the next 2,000 spent on qualified educational expenses including fees, tuition and books is given back to the taxpayer as a twenty-five cents per dollar reduction in taxes…in other words, when you pay for the second $2,000 of education, its like your are paying $500 toward you taxes.
    5.) Taxpayers with no tax liability can receive a refund of up to 40%. So even if you don’t pay taxes, you get the money back.
    6.) Qualified institutions include those that have been deemed eligible to participate in Title IV student aid by the Secretary of Education, whether or not they are participating. Andrew Jackson University has been designated by the Secretary of Education as a Title IV eligible school, and even though we are not participating in FSA, our students ARE eligible to receive these tax credits
    7.) Students who use other forms of federal aid, may not be eligible for the Tax Credit – in other words, if you are using federal grant or 529 funds to pay for education, those payments are not eligible for the tax credit. However, since Andrew Jackson University does not participate in FSA, most Andrew Jackson University students won’t be “double dipping”
    8.) As always, interested students she get tax advice from a tax expert.

    So – how awesome is this? Through our groundbreaking Sponsored Tuition program we have cut the cost of attending college to a very low level. Students who are eligible to receive tax benefits under the American Opportunity Tax Credit (AOTC) can now bridge
    the gap and have most of the remainder of their education costs picked up by the US Government through this tax credit.

    Andrew Jackson University allows students to Take Education Anywhere, and with this new program – students truly can use their education savings to go anywhere!

  2. i think a green building is a good investment, and over time will eventually pay the 10% difference in building costs. however, universities waste money every time you turn around.
    when i was at gvsu, one year granholm said that there would be a freeze on additional state funding for universities who raised tuition more than a certain amount. great idea...but... in response to that, gvsu added a $90 per semester parking fee - an underhanded way of raising tuition without technically really raising it. around the same time they were installing numerous fancy flat screen TVs all over the student center that did nothing but scroll daily events. add renting arenas for graduation (rather than doing it onsite), and all of the extra crap really starts piling up.

    i think it's really unfortunate that universities have become business rather than just educational institutions. it's pretty sad that just raising tuition is enough to get more students to go to school (as happened with k college in kalamazoo). just think about all of the money wasted on recruitment and advertising!