Students have spoken – will Shelton listen?

UA students and parents will need lots more money next year for tuition and fees if President Robert Shelton's proposed 31-ercent increase is adopted at next week's Board of Regents meeting
UA students and parents will need lots more money next year for tuition and fees if President Robert Shelton's proposed 31-ercent increase is adopted at next week's Arizona Board of Regents meeting in Tucson.

UPDATE: At least one member of the Arizona Board of Regents has a bit of reluctance re: UA President Robert Shelton’s proposed 31-percent increase in tuition and fees for next year. I checked with the Ernest Calderon, ABOR president this morning via Twitter and got this response: “The UofA request seems unreasonably high. But I haven’t prejudged it. I am putting pencil to paper to analyze it before the 11th. EC”

I wasn’t at the Arizona Board of Regents tuition and fee hearing Monday evening, but thanks to the wiz-kids at The Desert Lamp putting up a live stream, I was able to watch some of it. Unfortunately, the recording of that livestream does not seem to be working this morning (EML – if I’m wrong on that, put a good link in the comments section, OK?), but I’m grateful it was there for the watching last night.

I was heartened to see an overflow room of students at the various hearing sites and – after students from ASU more or less said they didn’t like President Michael Crow’s proposed 14-to-19 percent increase but would “reluctantly” support it – glad to see UA student leaders decry President Robert Shelton’s 31-percent proposed money grab. (Note: If you want the most extensive reporting on the hearing, go here, where the Republic’s Anne Ryman was given the column inches to offer the details, background, and more student voices than that provided by our local daily press.)

When the public was allowed to speak – and I only got to see a handful of speakers due to time constraints – both students and parents described personal situations that should have (but maybe didn’t) touched the hearts of the Regents and Shelton. Students blamed the state legislators for hacking higher ed to death, with good reason, but added that the Regents need to think outside the box to fund universities and that Shelton’s proposal was out of the question. Apparently, they didn’t agree with Shelton’s statement that “we’ve cut as far as we can go.”

The proposed increase was predictably justified by Shelton stating that the UA would, of course, increase financial aid through the Regent required 17-percent financial aid “set aside” and that most UA students graduate with a reasonable amount of debt. I hate to sound cynical, but the 17-percent set aside won’t negate the effects of the 31-percent proposed increase for the majority of UA students and I guess it all depends on what one considers “reasonable” when speaking of debt.

It amazes me that any responsible higher education official would encourage debt in the midst of a recession, knowing that college graduates are unable to find jobs that match their expensive undergraduate degrees. The last thing they should be doing is going into debt. Case in point: I was headed to an orientation session for my student teaching internship and stopped at Jamba Juice to get what would be my dinner. The young woman serving me had a name tag proclaiming: “Member since February 2010.” I commented on that and she explained that she had graduated from the UA with a degree in elementary education, and she’d been unable to find a job in her field. She detailed how she’d looked for “anything, any job at all” for six weeks before finally landing behind the juicing counter. Her biggest fear? Not being able to pay off her student loans.

I’m sure Shelton is trying his best. He’s the second-largest employee in Southern Arizona and he doesn’t want more layoffs (Lord knows Tucson doesn’t need them). But there has to be a better way than continuing to jack up tuition and fees beyond the reach of the middle class. (Remember that the very poor have access to Pell Grants and, at UA, the Arizona Assurance Program, and the very rich need no help, but the middle class is, well, squeezed in the middle with tuition and fee increases.)

As a commenter on the KVOA web site said regarding tuition and fees:

no, the university will not work with students who cannot afford tuition. my annual tuition costs me $26K already because i’m taking so many classes so i can graduate in 4 years, and financial aid said they would only give me $5K for the whole year…..private lenders wont lend me money because i’ve already taken too many loans out, let alone that they have a cap at $25K for one year….so what am I supposed to do now? whore myself out on 4th ave?

And about those fees: The Desert Lamp has spent much of its energy tracking the fact that student fees are no longer voted on by the students and last night released a trenchant statement showing how the fees have increased over the past four years and challenging Shelton to reinstate the prior method of determining fees. (Interesting fact: when allowed to vote on student fees, studetns voted down poorly planned fees three times – right before UA switched to a “student survey” method of passing fees.). Connor Mendenhall from the Lamp has started a Mad Fee Party Facebook group, which as of this morning had 1,075 members.

Fees, as anyone who has a kid in college knows, are just another word for “tuition increase”, especially when those fees are not critical to the university’s academic mission. Which brings me to an important point: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone from the UA Student Services office argue that UA has to provide full-service dorms and a rec center with a pro shop and juice bar “because students want them.” Maybe students do want those things – but when given the choice between professors in classes and a rock-climbing wall, I think most would choose the latter. Of course, with a student-survey type of “vote”, one can’t get a true assessment of what most students want since they only survey a small percentage.

The final tuition and fee rates for next year will be set March 11 in Tucson at the Board of Regents meeting. No public comment will be allowed, but silent protests are. My prediction will be that Shelton will offer a slightly lower proposal, saying he’s listened to the students, and the students will support it, in spite of it being too high, convinced that they’ve “won” something. They don’t really have any voice, afterall, unless the voting student regent can rally a couple other regents to his side and vote down Shelton’s proposal. Recall that happened last year at this time, and the student regent was, IMHO, fear-mongered into switching his vote to allow for last year’s increase (and the “temporary”, now-permanent, tuition surcharge).

And if the tuition and fee increase doesn’t come below 16 percent, my advice to local high school grads would be to head up the road to NAU, which although proposing a 16-percent increase for new students, offers those students the guarantee of no tuition increase (although possible fee increases) for four years. About half of the current NAU students are already on a fixed-tuition plan and will only see about $160/year increase in fees next year. Shelton has refused for three years to listen to student requests for a fixed-tuition plan.

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7 comments

  1. A Better Way to Balance Arizona’s Budget The way to get ourselves out of the current mess is this: be judicious with our spending cuts and our tax increases, with a keen eye on maintaining Arizona as an attractive place to live, work, and play. What’s the way to keep ourselves from being in this position the next time revenues nosedive? It’s really basic math: permanent spending programs funded only by permanent revenue sources. One-time spending programs (including contributions to the Rainy Day Fund) fueled by one-time or cyclical revenues. http://www.arizonaic.org/blog/202-balance-arizona-budget

  2. As a UA employee, I have to say that although I am very sympathetic to the writer’s point of view, the money to run the UA has to come from somewhere.  The cuts so far have been already been damaging, particularly to support staff.  The workloads are much heavier and the stress is high.  Through it all, UA employees focus on providing students with the best possible educational experience.
    If there was an alternative, I’m confident Shelton would pursue it.  One must also realize he’s trying to prepare for the financial impact of July 1, 2011, when the stimulus funds disappear and the state legislature is free to cut as much as it wants from higher education.
    Currently, a potion of the costs of a student attending the UA is subsidized by the state. As the state ends that subsidy, the burden should naturally fall to those consuming the service.  I strongly feel the state should subsidize higher education.  But the folks in PHX don’t feel the same way.  Someone has to pay the tab.
    I think opposing these tuition increases risks putting the UA in the terrible position of having to reduce the quality of the education it now offers.  Shelton is trying hard to preserve the legacy of quality education he inherited under very trying circumstances.
    Just another point of view…really no winners here except those in the legislature who have never supported higher education in Arizona.

    • Thanks for writing, and indeed, support staff have seen the brunt of these cuts. But as for “services” the UA provides – for such a high tuition you would expect the students would get frequent and accurate advising, tenure or tenure-track profs in their classes (instead of GAs), and small class sizes with access to professors. Instead, the call for good advising has gone unheeded for much of the past few years – students are always asking for more advisors – and more of the teaching load has gone to GAs while professors work on research so they can get tenure. And, this year we had the introduction of classes in Centennial Hall, w/ nearly 1,000 students in certain classes. Is that quality? that is questionable.

  3. Thanks for watching! We’re still getting the hang of this live streaming thing and we didn’t configure the stream to save after the broadcast. It’s too bad, because we can’t find an archived recording of the meeting anywhere on the web. We’ll definitely let you know if we manage to find one.
    I’ve never followed these public hearings very closely, assuming they were more or less procedural formalities without much bearing on the Regents’ actual decisions. I suspect your prediction is right—it’s the same blame-the-legislature-and-grudgingly-accept kabuki every year. But this time, there was a great student turnout—and many of them weren’t even sent there by academic departments or organizations pleading for funds and fees. Whether the Regents noticed it over their webcams (and whether they’ll ever manage to make a cognitive distinction between “student opinion” and “opinion of the student body president”) is a different story.

  4. If things are so bad is it not time for the University Employees to give up the discounts they receive on tuition and books their children get?

    • Great point, Wilbur. I thought about that. Jobs do have certain benefits, but perhaps that is one that could go partially – like maybe the discounts could be much lower. And also, UA employees go to school for very little. I’m just wondering if there could be give in many areas sort of to share the burden. But then again, many of the classified staff make beans and they really need that discount or their children wouldn’t be able to go to college…. hard, hard decisions all around.

  5. Good points, all.  Let’s face it though, the real problem here is the absolute refusal of the state legislature to consider any kind of tax increase for funding education–higher or otherwise.  Shelton is in a tough place, the fine staff at the U of A are in a tougher place, faculty members are being asked to take on unreasonable course and research loads, and students are getting the shaft.  The solution–and it’s certainly not a short term one: Use our votes to elect leaders who value education and who have the guts to pass the tax hikes to fund their values.  Period.  If we don’t, we’ll have only ourselves to blame as AZ becomes an increasingly unappealing destination for the providers of the jobs of the present and future.  It’s pretty simple really.  Money spent on education=educated populace=attractive location for businesses that need educated employees.  Duh.

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