Arizona's higher education leaders are demanding more money from students, while also exploring legal options to reduce tuition for some immigrants.
The state's three public universities released tuition proposals Friday calling for increases of up to 5 percent for the next academic year. School officials said the proposed increases were modest amid skyrocketing enrollment and shrinking state funding.
Under the proposals, students at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona could see tuition increase by 3 percent next year, while Northern Arizona University's incoming students face a 5 percent tuition hike.
The Arizona Board of Regents will discuss the proposals at a March 27 public hearing, which will include all three universities via videoconference. The board is expected to set final tuition and fee rates for the 2013 academic year when it meets in Tucson in April.
Board chairman Rick Myers said Arizona students would still pay less than students at other comparable universities.
"We are not out of control," he said.
The board is also weighing its options to reduce tuition for some immigrants granted legal protections under a new Obama administration policy. Students who are in the country illegally often pay much more to get a college education compared with Arizona residents.
"There clearly is a desire among this board of regents that students who have gone through our high schools in Arizona and live in Arizona need to have access to higher education," Myers said. "There is a sense of urgency to learn more about and to think about what we might do."
Student leaders said they were not surprised by the proposed tuition increases. Since 2007, tuition and fees for Arizona's public universities have jumped by more than 90 percent.
"They just do as they desire," said Shannon Boruch, a 20-year-old sophomore and a student senator at NAU in Flagstaff.
At ASU, new resident undergraduates would pay up to $9,484, an increase of $276 a year. The Tempe-based school has not released proposals for room and board rates.
In Tucson, resident undergraduate tuition and mandatory fees at UA would cost $10,391 next year, an increase of $356. Students would also see an $80 library fee increase. In all, UA has lost $180 million in state funding since 2008, driving per-student funding to its lowest level since 1967, according to school officials.
Tuition and fees for new resident undergraduate students at NAU would total $9,738 next year, up $467 from 2012. The school offers a guaranteed-tuition plan for incoming freshmen that freezes rates for four years.
Faculty and school leaders said the increases are necessary to ensure a quality education for the state's many new students. ASU has added more than 23,000 students since 2002, while the NAU student body has grown by 5 percent since 2010.
"We need to have this money to continue to offer the services that we have been offering," said Allen Reich, a hospitality professor at NAU and chair of the Arizona Faculties Council, which represents professors at the three public universities.
In 2011, average debt for undergraduates was $23,800 nationally, compared with about $21,000 in Arizona, according to the College Board, a nonprofit that tracks financial aid and tuition. Nationally, 57 percent of undergraduates at public schools borrowed money, compared with 54 percent in Arizona.
Under Arizona law, immigrant students must provide a green card, indicating permanent residency, to qualify for resident tuition. Students who have been granted deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security are considered lawfully present but do not have lawful immigration status, said Sarah Harper, spokeswoman for the regents. Therefore, they must pay nonresident tuition, Harper said.
Pro-immigration groups, students and professors have also called for reduced tuition for young immigrants.
"I haven't spoken to anyone who is against it," Reich said. "People getting a college degree are always a benefit to society."
Immigrants protected under the new Obama policy must be younger than 30 and must have come to the U.S. before they turned 16. Roughly 80,000 immigrants in Arizona are eligible, according to state estimates.
Gov. Jan Brewer has said young people in the deferred action program are still in the country illegally and should not receive "any taxpayer-funded public benefits."
Some school leaders have ignored Brewer's stance.
Pima Community College and Maricopa County Community College District recently voted to offer reduced tuition for illegal immigrants enrolled in the federal program. The Arizona Board of Regents does not oversee community colleges. At Pima, the change reduces the cost for full-time enrollment from more than $9,000 to about $2,000 annually.
Immigration activist Daniel Rodriguez said he was worried Brewer will intimidate the board of regents and convince them not to lower tuition for immigrants like him. He used his savings and private scholarships to pay nonresident tuition and obtain his undergraduate degree at Arizona State University in 2008. Rodriguez, 26, is now pursuing a law degree at the school.
"It's a backward thing to force the universities to close the doors of education to any student," he said.