A state board is considering whether to hike the tuition of Arizona university students to record levels, increases that are well above the national average for tuition increases.
If the Arizona Board of Regents approves the increases at its meeting Thursday, tuition and fees for incoming freshman will increase by 22 percent to $10,027 for in-state undergraduates at the University of Arizona in Tucson.
In addition, they would jump by 17 percent for in-state undergraduates at Arizona State University in Tempe, to $9,546, and by 15 percent for the Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, to $8,824.
Public universities nationwide increased in-state tuition and fees by an average of 7.9 percent last school year, with the average price at $7,605, according to the College Board, the nonprofit group that runs the SATs.
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. The Legislature has approved nearly $200 million in cuts to the schools next fiscal year.
Next fiscal year's cuts are a 22 percent reduction in university funding from the Legislature, but represent 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.
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."
"We're all struggling," 20-year-old nursing sophomore Candace Jackson, who goes to Arizona State University, said Wednesday in downtown Phoenix. "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."
Regents Chair Anne Mariucci said late Wednesday that she was still not sure how she was going to vote Thursday but said she was going to seek a smaller increase in tuition.
"I know that it's too high, I know students are upset, I know it's difficult to afford," she said. "We find ourselves torn ... (between) a sensitivity to students and families on the affordability end and a sympathy for university administrators and how difficult it is to operate at the standard of quality we have at the growth we have."