Arizona universities work to address disparities in per-student funding - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Arizona universities work to address disparities in per-student funding

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Posted: Tuesday, February 21, 2012 2:45 pm

The Arizona Legislature has directed the three state universities to recommend a funding structure that would address the disparities in per student funding.

Currently Arizona State University receives nearly $900 per student less than the University of Arizona. (Northern Arizona University receives about $760 less.) The disparities between the schools have been based on historical differences in mission that are no longer in existence, a press release from ASU states.

"Think of it like it's correcting an error, correcting a mistake," said ASU President Michael Crow, while insisting that ASU is "by no means an inferior institution."

According to the plan proposed by the three universities, UA would not receive less money, but ASU and NAU would slowly receive more money to match the per student funding of UA.

Over the next five years, the plan calls for additional money to go to ASU, as much as $60 million. The plan asks for $15.3 million in unearmarked money in the 2013 fiscal year, the rest would be phased in over the following four.

"It's not like we're broke," Crow said. "But we haven't been able to attain the level of quality we wish to attain ... It's good, but we're trying to be the best."

And while ASU has seen dramatic growth in both enrollment and research under Crow's direction, much of that has been done without financial increases from the state.

ASU, previously known as Tempe Normal School, became a university, not by legislative action, but through a voter ballot measure, said Mark Killian, the Arizona Board of Regents treasurer. It was originally founded as a teachers' college in 1885 and through the years, became a college and eventually a university in 1958.

State funding for the teachers' college was less than for the state's land-grant university, now the University of Arizona, a disparity that has continued since the schools' inceptions. There are three things that the Arizona universities are striving to become, Killian said. First, is that the universities become the three best in the country. Additionally, they need to be the least expensive so anyone who wants to go to university ought to be able to go.

"Others (universities) are proud to say they turn away thousands," Killian said. "But we want to educate as many as we can and for our graduates to be as successful as they can. Why should our kids go off to Ivy League schools and spend all of that money?"

With the additional funds, the universities would be able to do an even better job of what they are already doing, Crow said. It means that additional funding could affect faculty hiring, technology platforms and could even mean lower tuition for Arizona families.

"Taxpayers expect an equal investment in K-12 schools," Crow said. When they send their children to universities, they expect the same equal investment.

However, that's not true with the current funding structure. In the 2011 fiscal year, ASU received $5,702 per student from the state. UA received $6,598 per student.

All of the state universities are switching to a pay-for-performance funding model in the coming years, Crow said.

"We could look at it and say, ‘Everyone started at the same position,'" Crow said. "It's a level playing field so for all future allocations we can look at it and say, ‘What did you do and what did you achieve?'"

A performance funding model would start each school with a base funding, with all additional funding coming as the universities meet certain goals in graduation and retention rates and increases in outside research money, among other metrics.

In the end, increasing the number of Arizona university graduates is the best way to further economic success, Killian said.

"When people get a good education, they earn more money," Killian said. "In turn, they pay more income taxes and spend more money." That in turn, raises the state revenue.

"To cure poverty - it's not through welfare - it's through education," Killian said.

While the Legislature and the governor debate over a $200 million difference in next year's budget, Crow said he believes that many legislators and the governor are in strong support of additional funding to the universities.

"It's an important part of the economic recovery," he said.

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