Are Arizona-bound college students willing to trade upfront cash for tuition predictability? That’s the offer Sen. Dean Martin, R-Phoenix, wants the state’s three universities to make to incoming students.
He is seeking legislation to require the schools to offer freshmen the option of paying a fixed, flat tuition for all four years in college rather than facing the risks of unpredictable tuition hikes year after year.
It’s similar to the choice faced by home buyers: Get an adjustable mortgage with a low initial rate but the possibility of higher costs, or accept a fixed-rate loan with more expensive monthly payments but a guarantee it will never change.
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 past four years.
And the Board of Regents is set to consider a proposed 8.5 percent hike for state residents who want to attend Arizona State University, a 4.6 percent increase at the University of Arizona and a 3.6 percent at Northern Arizona University.
“These are things that no parent or student could have predicted when they started their college career,’’ Martin said. “That puts a lot of hardship on some of those students and parents. And, as a result, they need some better options.’’
In prior years some legislators sought to mandate a “hard cap’’ on tuition, forcing universities to set a single tuition for incoming students and stick to it. That brought protests from university lobbyists who said it would have unintended consequences. For example, they said if the flat tuition did not cover suddenly increasing costs, the schools would be forced to charge even higher fees to new incoming students to make up the difference.
But this legislation, which leaves the choice to students, has not provoked the same hostility. In fact Arizona State University is preparing some figures to determine exactly how much would have to be charged to students who opt for the single flat fee.
Lawmakers who heard discussion of the measure Wednesday opted to wait a week — until that study is completed — before making decisions on it.