Celebration, commitment ... and cost efficiency

Thursday, January 11th, 2018

January is a wonderful time in Arizona when we look forward to showcasing our beautiful state to visitors from all over who come to enjoy signature events such as our golf tournaments and car shows. Part of our new year's celebration also includes welcoming back students to our campuses from the holiday break, ready for the spring semester.

This week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey added our public universities to the list of our state treasures, calling them "national pillars in higher education" and their presidents "leaders among their peers."

In an era when so many question the value of public higher education, Arizona is fortunate to have a governor who proudly touts our universities to the world. Our state benefits enormously from the contributions of Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona. The continued achievement of these beloved institutions is a credit to their students and faculty, led respectively by Presidents Michael Crow, Rita Cheng and Robert Robbins.

Particularly encouraging was Governor Ducey's recognition of our commitment to protecting free speech on our college campuses. We've all read accounts of political correctness run amok, causing universities in other parts of the country to corral constitutional rights in the name of public sensitivity. Arizonans can take pride in our university campuses where our Constitution still rules, so knowledge, scholarship and diversity of thought can flourish.

The new year is also a time of renewed commitment. With the Arizona Legislature now back in session, and as the year commences, I would like to share with you two reports recently produced by the Arizona Board of Regents that demonstrate cost efficiency and reflect our commitment to transparency as well as providing access for students through effective use of financial aid.

The fiscal year 2017 Student Financial Aid Report provides extensive financial trend information and analysis. This in-depth evaluation enhances accountability and helps the public understand how each university manages financial aid to achieve greater student success. Key findings from this year's report demonstrate that a degree from one of Arizona's public universities is a sound investment.

In addition, the board's Cost Study Report, mandated by the Arizona Legislature, demonstrates our university system's commitment to cost efficiency. This review was verified by an independent third party and underscores the cost effectiveness of an Arizona university education compared to peer institutions. We are pleased to share with the public this official accounting, along with its results that affirm past estimates. The study found our universities spent an average of $16,813 per student on education-related activities. This amount included $1,017 in capital spending and $15,796 for operating costs. During fiscal year 2016, Arizona public universities spent over $800 per student less in real dollars than they spent in fiscal year 2008.

Importantly, Arizona's public universities spend significantly less than other similar universities, 21 percent below the average cost for all four-year public research universities. Further, when compared to peer universities, Arizona's public universities employ fewer full-time faculty per student, issue more degrees per 100 students and issue more total degrees.

Even so, we must continue to innovate our delivery model, reduce costs and minimize tuition increases while at the same time enhancing the educational quality and experience at each of our universities.

It is a new year, but our commitment is the same - to ensure our terrific public universities remain within reach of all Arizona families.