ASU President talks tuition, drinking, Greek life, sports

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By Tami Hoey By Tami Hoey

TEMPE, Ariz. -- About 18,000 undergrads will receive a degree from Arizona State University this week. ASU President Michael Crow believes that degree is more valuable than ever.

Dr. Crow has made a lot of changes at ASU and not all of them have been easy, as he tries to achieve what he calls the "New American University." He told me he believes the school is now more efficient, inclusive, and producing better minds that in turn help the whole community.

"You will be able to leave this institution and learn anything," says Crow. "Are we there yet? No. But we have made huge progress toward that goal."

Crow points to the numbers that show college graduates make more and have lower unemployment. We started our conversation with everyone's number one complaint: tuition.

"Our tuition increase over the last three years has only been one percent, below cost of living changes," he says. "I think we will stay on that model. That is the model we are focused on so parents can plan, can predict and can count on. Because if you've been saving over a 15 or 20 year period and the price is going up dramatically, greater than anything you can save, that's unfair in many ways, and we recognize that."

Crow also addressed the issue of student debt."Grants from the federal government, grants from the university," he says. "So, the average in-state student is still paying less than $4,000 in tuition to attend the institution. Half the students graduate with no debt. Half graduate with debt, and those that take debt are below the national average, so relative to others, we are doing a good job."

Another hot topic? ASU's rep of being a party school.

"What's weird is we do have that reputation," he says. "We long ago outgrew that as part of the cultural perception of the institution if it was even true then."

He addressed another big issue facing the university: alcohol abuse.

"We have a national crisis with alcohol abuse, binge drinking among college students," he says. "These are problems coming from their high school experience and sometimes even from their families where there's been a tolerance for alcohol that leads to a misbehavior."

And what about the Greek system, and the recent problems related to fraternities and sororities? "We have thousands of students having positive experience as Greek men and women, thousands," Crow says.

I asked Crow if he sees a storm coming for the NCAA and its control over college sports.

"Yes," he says. "I don't know about control, but a storm absolutely.  We're in that storm right now."

I also asked Crow to give me an example of something that has changed in his time at ASU that people would recognize.

"We now have students that are completely representative of the socio-economic diversity of the state," he says. "In 1990, only three percent of the students at ASU came from families that were working class or working poor."