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Sun, Jan. 26

Students voice concerns about tuition hikes

PHOENIX - Arizona's three public universities are hoping proposed tuition and fee increases as high as 31 percent will partially make up for cuts in state funding.

Students who are dealing with their own budget problems are hoping the state board that oversees the schools will soften the blow. They raised their concerns Monday night during a teleconference connecting nine meetings in metro Phoenix, Flagstaff and southern Arizona, with many of them pointing the blame at the Arizona Legislature.

"I'm just appalled," said Nicole Alarcon, an 18-year-old social work freshman at Arizona State University.

Despite a scholarship and some financial aid, Alarcon said she's had to take out $22,000 in student loans so far and expects to have to take out more, especially with a tuition increase.

"Three other years of loans would really add up," she said. "I'd be having to pay for school for the rest of my life. ... It's overwhelming."

Representatives of the University of Arizona in Tucson, ASU in Tempe and Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff said it's unlikely their proposed increases would be changed as a result of comments at the meeting.

But the 12-member Board of Regents will decide how much to increase tuition at the schools at its next meeting March 11 in Tucson. The board has previously approved tuition increases that were less than what the universities proposed.

For example, ASU requested an 8.9 percent tuition increase for continuing undergraduates in 2008, but the board approved a 6.9 percent hike. UA and NAU got what they asked for that year.

"It varies from year to year," said board spokeswoman Katie Paquet. "But I would say there's typically some negotiating there that takes place."

She said the regents attended Monday's public hearing to factor in students' concerns when they decide on the tuition increases.

Arizona university officials say tuition increases are necessary in light of the more than $229 million in financing the state Legislature has cut in the past two years, according to the Legislature's Joint Legislative Budget Committee.

The sharpest proposed tuition hike is at UA, where officials want a 31 percent increase in tuition and fees for undergraduate residents. The $2,130 increase would put the cost at just under $9,000 a year.

Chris Campos, a philosophy sophomore at UA, said the proposed 31 percent increase is "nothing short of criminal."

"Now is our time to stand up and demand better treatment from our leaders," Campos said.

UA spokesman Steve MacCarthy said the school has already eliminated 600 positions, closed 24 academic programs, merged nine academic programs and consolidated four colleges into one to make up for some of the Legislature's cuts.

"We feel like we've cut pretty much as much as we can cut," he said. "At some point we need to maintain the value and quality of degree and what we offer to students."

Arizona State University is recommending a 19 percent increase for new students, or about $8,100 a year. Current students could face increases of nearly 14 percent depending on when they enrolled.

"Students are going to have to log more hours of work and they're going to have to take out more loans," said Brendan O'Kelly, a junior in political science and history at ASU and president of the school's Undergraduate Student Government. "They're picking up a tab that they never imagined paying for when they first came to the university."

ASU spokeswoman Terri Shafer said the university had wanted to restrict tuition increases to 5 percent a year in a proposal a few years ago, but that was before the state cut funding.

"That was when we thought state funding was going to be more stable," Shafer said. "I don't think anybody could have really anticipated the economic situation the state is in and the extent to which that situation has deteriorated."

Northern Arizona University wants a 16 percent increase in tuition for new students, or nearly $7,700 a year. Roughly half of current undergraduates won't see a tuition increase this fall because they're on fixed-tuition plans, but they would be subject to a $167-a-year fee increase.

Dave Watts, a social work student at NAU's Yuma campus, said he proposes "no increases and no compromise."

"A lot of us are operating without outside support, without affluent parents," he said. "Unless we choose to graduate with extensive debt with student loans, tuition increases will continue to widen the gap between the poor and the working class."

NAU spokesman Tom Bauer said the school has made cuts where it can, including operating with 200 fewer employees.

"This is a shared experience with the university and students, and we need to cut," he said. "But we also cannot cut so much that the university doesn't offer the same experience."

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