Regents pondering university funding models

Student shares value of undergraduate research

Sixteen undergraduate and graduate students attended the regents’ meeting on Thursday to discuss research projects conducted at their respective universities that are funded by TRIF support.

Amber Enriquez, an undergraduate microbiology major, spoke to the regents about her three years’ experience in conducting hands-on research at NAU. Enriquez, who will graduate next May, participated in NAU’s five-week STAR program the summer before her freshman year where she was introduced to chemistry and biochemistry.

“The program sparked my interest and solidified my want to do research,” Enriquez said. “Being actively involved in research as an undergraduate student has been an important part of my life and has given me skills and opportunities.”

Enriquez’s research, conducted with Matthew Gage, NAU assistant professor in the College of Engineering, Forestry and Natural Sciences, focuses on examining irregularities in cell proteins that may lead to cancer.

With the Arizona universities’ funding requests for FY2013 set for consideration by the Arizona Board of Regents next month, the board examined alternative funding models to help formulate a strategy that may allow each of the institutions to yield greater public support.

Based on a request from the state Legislature and rooted in reshaping the funding model for Arizona higher education, the universities presented progress reports on a student-centered financial aid model, performance and outcome-based funding and per-student funding disparities among the three institutions.

Northern Arizona University President John Haeger led the three-university disparity study to develop a proposal for the board’s consideration and eventually legislative approval.

Haeger presented the proposal that over a five-year period would gradually bring NAU and Arizona State University up to the same level of state support per student as the University of Arizona. The three university presidents and the president of ABOR agreed upon the proposal.

“Arriving at a consensus was not an easy task,” Haeger said. But he said the joint recommendation they proposed was guided by the philosophy that every student attending one of the three universities should have the same level of state funding, and any remedy for disparity should not result in a loss for any institution.

Working closely with the ASU and UA presidents and the regents, Haeger presented a historical overview that explains the divergent missions of the universities that has contributed to the differences in per-student funding among the institutions.

Some regents expressed concern that state lawmakers may react to the disparity study by reducing state support to the lowest existing level.

A special session may be scheduled to discuss the reports prior to the next regularly scheduled regent meeting in September at NAU.

The universities also presented projects supported by the state tax-funded Technology Research Initiative Fund. The regents have directed the universities’ TRIF research projects to a limited number of areas over the next five years: improving health; water, environmental and energy solutions; national security systems; and space exploration and optical solutions. Funding also will be allocated for higher education access for workforce development.

NAU utilized TRIF funding for the Applied Research and Development building, the Laboratory Sciences building and the expansion of NAU-Yuma, and it will enable the university to launch a physician assistant program as part of UA’s College of Medicine-Phoenix in the fall of 2012.