State Universities Want Lawmakers to Salvage Funding

Jan 24, 2013

The presidents of the state's three universities came to the Capitol Tuesday hoping to salvage at least some of the funds they told the governor and lawmakers they need. Arizona Public Radio's Howard Fischer spoke with them after their meetings.

Budget requests from the schools totaled nearly $203 million, including $82 million for ongoing operations and the balance in one-time dollars for building construction and repair. Governor Jan Brewer pared that in her recommendation to just $59 million. And at this point, the legislative budget plan has precisely zero.

John Haeger of Northern Arizona University said the big difference between the request and Brewer's recommendation is no surprise. Haeger said Tuesday, "what we ask for is always a function of 'tell us what you actually need' and you work your way to a figure which is possible for the state to fund as well as, we hope, the Legislature."

And Haeger and the other two presidents indicated they'd be tickled pink if lawmakers were to actually approve even the Governor's plan. Arizona State University President Michael Crow said the schools are learning to live with less state support. "When I took office the university was funded almost 50 percent by state revenues. Now it's less than 15 percent. So our model going forward, at least speaking now only for ASU, is none of modest but focused investment based on performance coming from the state. So what we're after is a different kind of investment model from the state."

That means no more seeking money based on an increased number of students. Instead, the performance plan approved by the state Board of Regents links new dollars to meeting standards for everything from securing additional research grants to how many students graduate. Brewer's plan calls for dividing up $23 million in performance dollars among schools. But there's really less there than meets the eye. She provides just $15.3 million in new funds, with the balance carved out of the schools' existing budgets to be redistributed. Ann Weaver Hart, in her first year at the University of Arizona, echoed the theme that the universities have fewer state dollars per student now than in the past and they continue to look for alternatives. But she said lawmakers need to recognize the link between investing in higher education and their goal of economic growth. Hart added, "we know the new American economy is going to be based far more significantly on knowledge industries that require a higher proportion of the population to possess higher-order knowledge, to have bachelor's degrees and, in some cases, critically relying on graduate and professional degrees."

That need to find alternatives to state funding has increased pressure on the universities to get more money from students. John Haeger of NAU said while the schools are working to keep tuition under control, they have also created lower-cost alternatives. That includes not only starting education at a community college but also satellite campuses like ASU runs at Lake Havasu City and NAU has in Prescott, where tuition is less. One area of the schools' budget requests ignored by the governor and, so far, the Legislature is a plea for more money to make needed repairs. Ann Weaver Hart at U of A believes the presidents understand that money is tight, but that cannot continue forever. She said, "just as you would not leave your roof to leak and blow off before you make some effort to repair it, we as the stewards of this state resource will come constantly to remind that great investments in the past require reinvestment in order to protect the value of that investment."

Budget talks are expected to drag on for weeks.