Time to restructure university system - East Valley Tribune: Opinion

Time to restructure university system

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Posted: Tuesday, February 3, 2009 10:18 pm | Updated: 2:44 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

Arizona’s university system comprising of only three public universities is insufficient and broken. One consequence of this is the expansion of the Arizona State University empire with the satellite campuses now charging the same tuition rate as the overcrowded main campus.

Instead of marketing gimmicks like “One University in Many Places” and “Largest public university under a single administration,” Arizona needs to establish separate universities that promote competition and accountability instead of the massive bureaucracy that is found at a jumbo-sized university.

Expanding the university system reduces the likelihood that any single university will have a disproportionate influence and provides more differentiation relating to the size and mission of Arizona’s universities.

My plan encapsulates both ASU West and ASU Polytechnic campuses as separate, free-standing state universities, titled “Phoenix State University” (PSU) and “Arizona Institute of Technology” (AzTech), respectively.

PSU follows the naming convention of reputable public universities like San Diego State University and Portland State University; whereas, AzTech has a reputable title similar to public polytechnic universities like Georgia Institute of Technology and Oregon Institute of Technology. PSU and AzTech would provide alternative choices and much needed competition to the ASU monopoly for greater Phoenix’s population of 4 million people.

PSU and AzTech would be neither state colleges nor subsidiaries of ASU. Rather, they would be independent, master’s-level universities whose presidents report directly to the Arizona Board of Regents. Both universities would have core faculty who still do research. However, these universities would accept a greater percentage of community college transfer credits and could employ a larger percentage of non-research faculty (lecturers) when compared to ASU. The savings that result from not subsidizing the expensive ASU operations would be passed along to PSU and AzTech students in the form of lower tuition rates and smaller parking fees.

In addition, PSU would also emphasize greater access to higher education for first-generation and under-represented Arizona residents.

This branding of PSU and AzTech as separate and distinct universities promotes clearer institutional identities while eliminating confusion for students and the general public versus the more ambiguous campus-centric and “school-centric” models at ASU. PSU and AzTech could then establish their own fund raising and community partnerships by participating directly with businesses and local leaders instead of relying on a centralized administrative structure that is located far away.

Remember that Arizona voters recently rejected nearly all ballot measures to consolidate school districts because they want to keep local control and accountability.

Under this reorganization, the Board of Regents would be directly responsible for the governance, supervision, and coordination of five state universities. This structure resembles a previous 2004-2005 Board of Regents plan, except that there is no tiered governance system and the proposed universities have reputable names while still having research. ASU and University of Arizona would specialize in developing doctoral research programs and achieving top national rankings while Northern Arizona University, PSU and AzTech focus more on increasing access to undergraduate programs, especially among under-prepared and under-served Arizona populations.

As with many aspects of education, perception matters a lot. Each year, a significant percentage of high-achieving Arizona high school graduates choose to attend universities outside of Arizona. This results in ASU and UA being perceived as “less rigorous,” thereby leading to fewer research grants and lower endowments when compared to other peer universities. How can Arizona cities attract more high-paying jobs (e.g., aerospace, biotechnology, financial services, and information technology) when competing cities’ metropolitan areas (e.g., Atlanta, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City, San Antonio, and San Diego) each has two or more public universities?

Likewise, how can Arizonans compete educationally with residents from other states when many of those states (e.g., Kentucky, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington) have more than three public universities?

The Arizona university system should begin the process of restructuring now. My plan provides Arizonans with more choices and increased access to public higher education, thereby resulting in greater economic growth and development while reducing unemployment and incarceration rates.

Sanjeev Ramchandra of Tempe is an Arizona State University graduate student in higher and postsecondary Education. For more information, visit http://PSUandAzTech.blogspot.com/.

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