Regents Hike Tuition, Help Payson Campus

Backers of a Payson campus say the jump to $9,716 annually may make local case stronger

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The Arizona Board of Regents last week approved another increase in tuition at Arizona State University to $9,716 per year — up nearly 500 percent in the last decade.

ASU’s 67,000-student campus has lost half its state support in three years.

But it’s probably good news for the people trying to convince ASU to build a Payson branch campus for 1,000 to 5,000 students, lured to a college in the pines with tuition set at half the total as on ASU’s Tempe campus.

The higher ASU sets its tuition — the more sense the low-cost Payson campus makes, say backers.

“If I were a third party looking from the outside in at what we’re negotiating,” said Payson Mayor Kenny Evans, “then I’d say the steps the Board of Regents took last Thursday and Friday would nudge an outsider in the direction of saying this looks even more favorable.”

Three years ago when Payson officials first pitched ASU on building a high-tech campus here, ASU’s tuition stood at about $6,000 annually.

The backers of the Payson campus said they could charge half that tuition and still make the campus pencil out by using an innovative public-private partnership to build the campus at a relatively low cost and then attracting spin-off businesses like a research park and a convention hotel.

Those businesses would locate next to the campus and make lease payments that would help lower the cost of the campus.

But if students paid just $3,000 annually in tuition to what would amount to a small, liberal arts college offering an undergraduate degree, the campus would still need substantial state support.

However, the calculations change as ASU’s tuition rises. Now, half the tuition would yield a tuition of more like $5,000 — making dubious state enrollment support less important.

Moreover, despite the increases in tuition in the past three years, enrollment continues to rise rapidly at the state’s three universities. Enrollment has risen 15 percent in the past two years and the Board of Regents projects an additional 4 percent growth in fiscal 2012.

Several studies suggest Arizona will have to double the number of college degrees it offers by 2020 to keep up with growth and to compete in a high skill national and global economy.

ASU has yet to release the results of an expensive marketing study it has launched on the Payson campus, but a half-priced degree in a state scrambling to find enough slots for college students will likely provide a strong selling point — not even counting the plans to make the campus forested, high-tech and wired.

The Board of Regents’ session last week brimmed with bad news for students in the wake of the latest $198 million cut in state support for the battered system.

The Regents granted ASU President Michael Crow’s request for a tuition hike to $9,716 annually, plus an array of student fees.

However, the Regents cut the proposed tuition increases at Northern Arizona and the University of Arizona in half by requiring the schools to provide tuition “rebates” to in-state residents that range from $350 at NAU to $750 at U of A.

The rebates will reduce NAU’s tuition to $8,474 and the U of A’s tuition to $9,285 on the main campus there.

The shift will make ASU’s tuition 15 percent higher than NAU’s and 5 percent higher than U of A’s.

Tuition for out-of-state students rose to somewhere between $18,000 and $24,000 annually, depending on the university.

The Regents also required the universities to devote 17 percent of the tuition payments to financial aid for needy students, which will provide a 26 percent increase in these need-based scholarships to $107 annually.

State funding

Since 2008, the Legislature has cut per-student state funding by 50 percent — a budget hit of about $428 million — in the face of a 15 percent jump in enrollment.

ASU has dropped programs, laid off faculty and staff, and imposed increases in tuition to cope with the dwindling state support.

Board of Regents Chairman Anne Mariucci said the board’s decision to require the tuition rebates and increase in financial aid at NAU and U of A will help students.

“Our vote is a reflection of our commitment to mitigate the financial impact of monumental state budget cuts on students and hard-working families.”

Board member Fred DuVal said, “While today is a victory for Arizona students and families, future state budget cuts to higher education will be extremely problematic. With a balanced state budget in place and future state revenues projected to increase, higher education should not be subject to more cuts next year.”

Evans said that the Board of Regents’ meeting last week marked a crucial step in adjusting to the deep state cuts.

The Arizona Senate had proposed even deeper cuts, prompting ASU officials to say they might have to abandon efforts to strike a deal with Payson.

However, Evans said less drastic cuts in the compromise budget approved by Gov. Jan Brewer have allowed local planning efforts to continue.

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