Ariz. universities propose 3-5 pct. tuition hikes

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

PHOENIX (AP) -- Northern Arizona University students could see tuition increase 5 percent, and students at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona could owe 3 percent more next year under proposals released Friday.

The Arizona Board of Regents has scheduled a March 27 public hearing on the proposals from Arizona's three public universities. After the hearing, which will include all public university campuses via videoconference, the board is expected to set final tuition and fee rates for the 2013 academic year in April.

University officials said the increases were modest.

"NAU continues to offer the education that students want at costs that are extremely competitive," NAU President John Haeger said in a statement.

Since 2007, tuition and fees for Arizona's public universities have increased by up to 96 percent.

In 2012, the regents froze tuition rates at Arizona State University and the University of Arizona for the first time in 20 years. For several years, Northern Arizona University has offered a guaranteed-tuition plan for incoming freshmen that freezes rates for four years.

In 2011, average debt for undergraduates was $23,800 nationally, compared with about $21,000 in Arizona, according to the College Board, a nonprofit that tracks financial aid and tuition. Nationally, 57 percent of undergraduates at public schools borrowed money, compared with 54 percent in Arizona.

University officials are also expected to debate tuition breaks for some illegal immigrants this month. Students without legal status often pay much more to get a college education compared with Arizona residents.

Under state policy, immigrant students must provide a green card, indicating permanent residency, to qualify for resident tuition. Students who entered the U.S. illegally but have been granted deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security are considered lawfully present, but they must pay nonresident tuition, said Sarah Harper, spokeswoman for the regents.

Gov. Jan Brewer, who sits on the board, has said young people in the deferred action program are still in the country illegally and should not receive "any taxpayer-funded public benefits."

Some school leaders have ignored Brewer's stance.

Pima Community College and Maricopa County Community College District recently voted to offer reduced tuition for illegal immigrants enrolled in the federal program. The Arizona Board of Regents does not oversee community colleges.

At Pima, the change reduces the cost for full-time enrollment from more than $9,000 to about $2,000 annually.

At Maricopa, school officials recently sought to increase tuition from $76 per credit hour to $81 per credit hour for the upcoming 2013-14 academic year.