Regents launch pilot program for new tuition-setting process

The Arizona Board of Regents has approved a pilot plan for setting tuition that would establish a range for tuition increases for continuing students, beginning with the 2009-2010 school year.

The pilot plan, approved at the regents Aug. 14-15 meeting on campus, provides more regent input on the front-end of the tuition process. In the past, the three state universities submitted tuition recommendations to the Board of Regents for input.

The regents’ proposed tuition parameters would limit tuition increases for continuing students to the top of the bottom third of 50 senior public universities nationwide to which the Arizona universities compare themselves. This is the parameter the universities currently use to establish the upper limit of tuition increases. Another option proposed by the regents would limit tuition increases to the rise in cost of living.

The regents will adopt the tuition parameters in September. The universities will announce their tuition plans in November, followed by a tri-university tuition hearing. The regents will vote on tuition in December.

As part of the tuition-setting process, the regents also will consider such factors as the ability of Arizona families to pay, funding needs of the universities and the share of responsibility between the state and students.

Considerable discussion ensued about developing a better list of 50 true peer institutions and of the need to move beyond viewing tuition solely in terms of cost.

In other action, David Bousquet, vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Affairs, made a presentation about NAU’s impressive growth and its block tuition program.

Bousquet anticipates another record enrollment of freshmen on the Flagstaff campus this fall and noted that freshman enrollment on the Flagstaff campus may be up as much as 60 percent this fall over fall 2002 freshmen.

This also is the first year of NAU’s new block tuition program, which guarantees the same tuition rate for eight semesters for new, full-time freshmen and transfer students. Block tuition, Bousquet said, “speaks directly to the issue of affordability, provides much-need predictability and a tangible incentive for students to finish in four years.”

Bousquet emphasized that block tuition establishes a tuition rate; it does not raise tuition. Block tuition sets a tuition rate for four years. Tuition increases apply to continuing students who have chosen not to participate in the block tuition program.

At the end of Bousquet’s presentation, Regent Ernest Calderón noted, “This is tremendous. Students and parents have embraced NAU, and you only embrace something you love.”

The regents also participated in a video discussion with Travis Reindl, program director of Jobs for the Future, who leads a national initiative focused on improving college access and affordability called “Making Opportunity Affordable,” funded by the Lumina Foundation for Education.

The regents have established productivity—specifically, producing more degrees with greater efficiency and without sacrificing quality—as one of the goals in its 2020 strategic plan. Gov. Janet Napolitano also had requested that the universities undertake an efficiency review, similar to a program she established for state agencies in 2003.

The focus in higher education should be on the “end game” of producing a more educated population and not on price or tuition, Reindl said. He noted that NAU is on the cutting edge of innovation in producing more educational capital—college graduates—through its collaboration with community colleges.

Reindl advised that as the Board of Regents looks to enhance productivity it ensures quality, it be clear about its purpose to increase the number of Arizonans with baccalaureate degrees and that it work with the Legislature to pursue a pledge of good faith that dollars saved by the universities be reinvested in established priorities.