The annual tuition discussion for Arizona’s universities could yield a differentiated tuition structure throughout the system, depending on where students are studying.

During the Arizona Board of Regents meeting last week in Glendale, regent LuAnn Leonard, chair of ABOR’s Resources Committee, suggested the board move away from a “one size fits all” policy to lower-cost options, putting tuition proposals more in line with these lower-cost, high-access programs.

The idea is to have students pay more at the larger main campuses in Flagstaff, Tucson and Tempe, where research is conducted and students receive more services. A lower rate would apply to students taking courses online or through community and branch campuses.

By 2020, nearly 77 percent of students are expected to be in high-access, low-cost programs. However, NAU President John Haeger warned the board about unintended consequences of keeping tuition too low.

“You can have lower tuition, but the universities may not be more accessible,” Haeger said. “California stopped tuition increases, but with reduced funding, the only choice was to shut off access to a large number of students.”

The tuition-setting process already has begun, and Haeger is meeting with student groups this week to discuss tuition and fee proposals. The board will vote on tuition during its March meeting.

The board also heard a report on financial aid and what most students were paying to attend an Arizona university.

Arizona’s three state universities provided $1.3 billion in financial aid to students in fiscal year 2009. This represents about a 19 percent increase over the previous year and a 75.6 percent increase over the last five years.

About 77 percent of students receive financial aid, and the average net tuition and fees paid for full-time resident undergraduates was $2,253. The average amount of undergraduate student debt upon graduation increased 8.8 percent over last year, but the number of undergraduates with debt at graduation decreased 5.1 percent.