Earth Notes
10:57 pm
Wed February 8, 2006

Tuition choice for Arizona students

Phoenix, AZ – It's just like the question that faces home buyers. You
can get into an adjustable rate mortgage with low
monthly payments. But you run the risk of substantially
higher bills if interest rates go up. Or you can pay
more now for a fixed rate loan but get the security of
knowing that payment won't change. That's the way Sen.
Dean Martin sees the question of tuition at Arizona's
three state universities. On Wednesday, Martin told
members of the Senate Committee on Higher Education on
Wednesday that the cost of attending a state university
has risen 73 percent in the last four years. And next
month the Board of Regents will consider proposed hikes
for next year, ranging from 3.6 percent at Northern
Arizona University to 8.5 percent at Arizona State.

(These are thing that no parent or student could have
predicted when they started their college career, that
it would raise actually that much while they were
there. That puts a lot of hardship on some of those
students and parents. And, as a result, they need some
better options.)

His legislation would let students choose: Enroll in
college at current rates and risk future price hikes,
or accept a higher bill now with a guarantee that price
won't change.

(This would give them the ability up front to make the
decision whether or not they want to pay the extra
money for a certainty. And then it's not our fault if
they don't choose that option. This is simply providing
more options to the students, and to the university.)

Sen. Toni Hellon acknowledged the sharp tuition
increases of the past few years. But she said lawmakers
share in the blame for that because they did not boost
state funding to keep pace with enrollment growth.

(So we're shifting that over to the students and taking
responsibility away from the Board of Regents. And I
think that our inaction in many ways has created the
need for universities to increase tuition. So to blame
them solely I think is not fair.)

One provision in the measure bothered Sen. Albert Hale:
It would allow universities to hike the tuition
payments to students on the fixed-rate plan if they
changed majors. He said many students enter school not
knowing exactly what they want to do, enrolling in
general studies or choosing a major at random.

(And then through the course of the years they decide
they're going to go a different direction. The way this
bill is drafted with the explanations given we're going
to be penalizing them. And I don't think that's what we
should be doing. We should be helping them, encouraging
them, encouraging students to exercise that freedom of
choice.)

But Martin said the provision was inserted because the
universities are moving toward a system where the
tuition charged would be based more on the major -- and
the cost of running that program. Martin said without
that provision students could game the system,
enrolling at first in a low-cost major and then
switching to a more expensive one. The legislation will
be voted on next week. In Phoenix, for Arizona Public
Radio this is Howard Fischer.