19 April 2009
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.
Posted by Andrew Meeusen at 08:58