Wednesday, October 12th, 2016
By Eileen Klein
In case you missed it, The Arizona Republic delivered an outstanding editorial on the solid performance of our state’s public universities, citing our jaw-dropping achievements – from leadership in space exploration to universities that have been ranked among the most innovative in the nation.
It was just this year that a first-of-its-kind analysis revealed Arizona’s three public universities were responsible for 102,000 jobs and $11.1 billion in total economic impact in FY 2015. Meanwhile, recently released figures indicate more Arizona students are both attending college and earning their degrees after high school. This is all great news and shows how much we have to build on when it comes to supporting Arizona higher education.
Last year, the board adopted a new budget tied to our top priority - funding Arizona resident students in response to Gov. Ducey’s request that the Arizona Board of Regents develop a sustainable funding model that counts the state as one of many investors.The governor’s FY 2017 budget recommendation and the adopted budget both included the model and has laid the groundwork for our FY 2018 request.
The board has requested a $67.3 million increase in university funding for next fiscal year. This proposal prioritizes support for the education of Arizona resident students and accounts for projected growth in student enrollment in the coming year. It also moves us closer to funding the new student-focused model with our proposal that the state eventually cover 50 percent of the cost for an Arizona resident student to attend one of our public universities.
A 50-50 share recognizes the state of Arizona’s historic responsibility – and shared benefit – of providing Arizona resident students access to a quality higher education, while still requiring students to financially participate in their own education. Under our proposal, the state would achieve this 50-50 funding model after three years – making meaningful financial support a reality for students and universities.
ABOR’s FY 2018 budget proposal also requests $30.1 million in one-time capital funding - a small fraction of the estimated $671 million in unmet, unfunded capital needs of our universities, including critical items such as roofs and asbestos abatement.
Over the course of nearly a decade, Arizona universities endured the largest per-capita cuts in the nation. Our universities became more efficient out of necessity, and I’m proud to say the cost per degree from one of our institutions is actually less now than in 2010. Our university presidents remain committed to continued steps to trim costs wherever possible.
However, we’re hopeful the state’s improved financial position will enable elected leaders to build off the current year’s investment in Arizona’s public universities – not just for the sake of improving balance sheets, but because we recognize the power of higher education in our communities and the lives of our students.