Arizona Board of Regents reacts to proposed cuts to university system

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By Christina O'Haver By Christina O'Haver

PHOENIX -- Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey ran on a promise to invest in education.

His budget gives a small boost to K-12 schools but slashes funding for higher education by 10 percent.

Ducey announced a $75 million cut to the university system in the proposed executive budget for 2016.

University presidents and the Board of Regents expressed their disappointment.

"It's just out of alignment to me and will require some substantial discussion,” said Arizona State University President Michael Crow.

"I worry that we continue to have a drain on our best and brightest from this state, whether it's the professors at our universities or whether it’s our students who aren't going to have the confidence to go to our universities, as this state doesn't have the confidence to invest in them," said Regent Rick Myers.

"The state used to be the majority shareholder in its public universities. These are constitutional entities, and today the state is a minority shareholder," said Arizona Board of Regents President Eileen Klein.

This isn't the first time universities have been on the chopping block and as a result, they’ve had to increase tuition in the past.

But Crow said that this time, "there will be no in-state tuition increase for in-state students, graduate or undergraduate, at Arizona State University. Period. No matter what."

It's a promise the Arizona Board of Regents wants to see through.

"We want to keep affordability and accessibility as a top priority,” Klein said.

But they admit, deciding what to cut won’t come easy.

"There is not a lot of fat left to cut,” said Regent Greg Patterson. “It is not going to be something that's going to be easy to do."

The Board of Regents will meet again with the university presidents Feb. 4.

This time they said they will have an in-depth discussion on what will have to be cut from each university, and they will come up with a plan of action to recommend to the Legislature.

Click here to view the proposed executive budget for 2016.

Here is the full statement from the Arizona Board of Regents:

The Arizona Board of Regents appreciates the enormity of the task ahead that Gov. Ducey faces as he sets out to strike a balanced budget for our state. Indeed, in his State of the State address this week, the governor outlined key reforms that can have positive outcomes and meaningful impacts on the budget. We applaud his vision to keep fiscal responsibility, economic development and strengthening our K-12 system foremost priorities through his leadership.

The budget released today calls for $75 million in cuts to Arizona’s public universities. While there are many complex issues involved in delivering a balanced budget to Arizona citizens, defunding our universities is not a sustainable solution to our state’s economic challenges.

When the universities were dealt deep cuts during the Great Recession, the cuts had an exacting toll on our university system in measures such as workforce reductions, closed academic programs, schools and campus sites, furloughs and more. Tuition also increased because of the deep cuts. Arizona leads the nation in funding cuts and tuition increases.

Today, the state of Arizona is a minority shareholder in its public universities, despite our universities being constitutional entities. Approximately only one-quarter of our public universities’ operating funds come from the state. Tuition dollars fund the majority of the operating budget. Arizona’s students and families simply cannot bear the burden of continued increases in tuition. As well, students must be able to plan for their tuition. Just last year, we were able to deliver predictable tuition at all three of our state universities.

Arizona’s public university system is foundational to the state’s economic prosperity. Universities provide the educated workforce for companies to hire, serve as incubators for new ideas and innovations, and help attract new companies and industries to Arizona. With two-thirds of job openings in Arizona requiring bachelor’s degrees by 2018, opportunity no longer begins with a high-school diploma, but rather with a college degree.

While our public mission remains, there is no question that our relationship with the state is dramatically and rapidly changing.

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