Governor’s proposed budget cuts deep into higher education

See commentary by Colin Marston ’13 on the budget cuts in the April edition of The Roundup hitting newsstands soon

By Eric Villanueva ’11
THE ROUNDUP

Gov. Jan Brewer proposes to cut state funding for universities by 20 percent and to slash aid to community colleges almost in half to correct an $825 million budget deficit this year and a $1.4 billion predicted shortfall next year.

All in all, the governor hopes to save $1.1 billion through budget reductions for the next fiscal year, which begins July 1, according to the executive budget summary online.

The governor said universities are developing their own cost-cutting plans, but that a solution is needed now.

“To date, the leaders of our universities have developed some successful lower cost models that, in time, will be expanded, refined and employed,” the governor wrote in an address to the state congress.  “Unfortunately, we can no longer wait for widespread implementation of these options. We must impose financial reform at the Universities now.”

But the universities and community colleges warn that cuts in funding will have a ripple effect on the state’s economy for years to come.

“We clearly understand the harsh realities of the state’s fiscal situation and appreciate that none of the choices are easy ones for the governor or our Legislature,” Arizona Board of Regents chairwoman Anne Mariucci said in a press release. “We do hope that in the dialogue about the difficult budget choices, leaders and citizens will seriously examine the priority of a quality higher education system in our state and its role in economic recovery. In the meantime, the Regents and the university presidents will work closely together to determine how a cut of this magnitude can be best absorbed while preserving the quality for which our universities are known and respecting tuition affordability for students and their families.”

“But make no mistake about it, this latest cut will have a serious impact on university operations, facilities, staff and offerings,” she added.

University of Arizona President Robert Shelton said he’s confident Arizona universities will continue to play a key role in the state’s economic recovery, but that cuts to the schools’ budgets will hinder that.

“We cannot cut our way to greatness,” Shelton said in a presentation to the Arizona House Higher Education, Innovation and Reform Committee Wednesday, Jan.19. “We are having success doing what we are doing.”

Arizona’s public universities face a $170 million reduction in state funding for the fiscal year 2012 on top of the $400 million in state budget cuts the institutions have sustained since the start of fiscal year 2008.

This has caused a 25 percent drop in per-student funding from the state, according to the governor’s budget office, while, at the same time, enrollment has grown by 15 percent since 2008.

Budget cuts have also slashed 2,100 positions across the three state universities, an 11 percent workforce reduction, according to the Arizona Board of Regents.

The Maricopa County Community College District also faces cuts of its own with the governor’s proposal.

MCCCD’s current operating budget is $655 million, of which $45.3 million comes from the state. Tuition and local taxes make up much of the rest of the budget.

With the governor’s proposal, the state’s $45.3 million allotment would be slashed to $6.9 million in the 2011-12 fiscal year.

To make up for these cuts in state aid, universities and community colleges have raised tuition rates, even for in-state students.

Tuition for new undergraduate in-state students at Arizona State University increased 19.8 percent from the 2009-2010 school year to the 2010-2011 school year. Continuing students who enrolled in 2009 saw a 12.9 percent increase. This equates to $7,793 per year, according to ASU’s University News.

Tuition for new resident students at Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona this year grew by 14.3 percent and 16.4 percent respectively, or $7667 per year and $8,238 per year.

However, the governor said benefits from the budget cuts are in the big picture.

Last year’s budget cuts halved the state’s deficit and the latest reductions will reduce total state budget deficit to a little more than $100 million, according to the online executive budget summary.

Budget cuts also make government programs more effective, according to the governor.

“Our budget crisis has forced us to focus narrowly on those services that a state government must provide, and to provide them in the most effective and prudent way possible,” the governor wrote.

• Three state universities: A nearly 20 percent cut in funding, totaling $171 million.

• Community college system: A $72.9 million, or 46 percent, cut in state aid.

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