TUCSON — Despite recent student protests, regents for Arizona's public universities voted Thursday to dramatically hike tuition, but also will offer rebates to some students to help ease the financial strain.
The Arizona Board of Regents' vote raised tuition and fees at the University of Arizona in Tucson by 22 percent to $10,027 for in-state freshman undergraduates in the fall. Those costs will jump by 19.5 percent, to $9,716, for in-state undergraduates at Arizona State University in Tempe and by 15 percent, to $8,824, at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff.
The increases are far larger than average tuition hikes seen last year, when public universities nationwide increased in-state tuition and fees by an average of 7.9 percent, with the average price at $7,605, according to the College Board, the nonprofit group that runs the SATs.
But the regents also decided to give rebates of $350 to incoming in-state freshman undergraduates at NAU and $750 rebates to all in-state undergraduates at UA because those schools have rainy day funds to address cuts in their budget by the Arizona Legislature.
Board Chair Anne Mariucci said UA had $28 million and NAU has $18 million in unused money set aside in the event of legislative cuts to their budgets. ASU has no such money.
The rebates only apply for one year.
"I think it's certainly better than nothing," Mariucci said after the vote. "Next year it'll be a new ball game."
The board voted for the increase 7-2 after about six hours of debate, with members arguing over various alternative proposals that were mostly turned down.
Students have been strongly protesting against the tuition increases and legislative cuts. Hundreds of students rallied at the three universities on March 23, carrying signs that read "Keep education alive" and "Say no to cuts."
"Are you kidding me? That's stupid," said Jordan King, a 20-year-old UA business sophomore, after learning of the vote. Of the rebates, he said, "That's just a slap in the face. That's like taking $1,000 from us and giving us $10 back."
"That's so much money. My parents are paying my tuition and they can't afford that," he said.
"We're all struggling," nursing sophomore Candace Jackson, 20, who goes to Arizona State University, said before the vote. "It's a big chunk of money."
Jackson has a $9,000 yearly scholarship for books and tuition, and said she'd probably have to get a job to cover any increases in tuition. She said that would take away some of her study time and threaten her ability to maintain a 3.5 grade-point average or higher to keep her scholarship.
"Not everyone is fortunate enough to have a scholarship," she said. "I know a good handful of people who wouldn't be able to afford tuition increases at all."
The tuition spike was also tough to take for some regents, including Dennis DeConcini, a former U.S. senator.
"We are absolutely going crazy on tuition, it's absolutely out of sight," he said. "It is really absurd what we get ourselves talked into here, with all due respect to the great work of the presidents. This board is drinking the Kool-Aid. We're taking these figures right down the line."
Arizona universities say they've cut back where they can and blame the state Legislature's steep cuts to their budgets. Over three fiscal years beginning in 2008, the Legislature cut a total of $232.5 million from the schools and has approved nearly $200 million in cuts to the schools during the next fiscal year.
Next fiscal year's cuts amount to a 22 percent reduction in university funding from the Legislature, though that reduction represents 4.7 percent of the schools' overall funding, which they also get from things like tuition, dorm fees, and research grants. The universities still will get $692 million from the Legislature next fiscal year.
The one thing all the board members seemed to agree on Thursday was that the Legislature has been draconian in its cuts to higher education.
"There's no good feelings around this board that I can see about anything regarding what has happened at the Legislature," member Bob McLendon said.
"Our universities are giant beacons out there in this country, not just for the West," he said. "Arizona is kind of short right now on those beacons. We're not looked upon favorably by a lot of folks, but we do have some rays of hope out there. We must really continue to invest in our universities."