There has been much discussion over the past month regarding Governor Doug Ducey’s plan to use State Land Trust money to increase funding for K-12 education. We’ve written about the Governor’s plan and believe it is a good first step to addressing our state’s lack of education funding. It is important to remember, however, that funding K-12 schools is just one piece of the education puzzle our state is facing.
Last March, the State Legislature dealt one of the largest budget blows to Arizona’s university system by cutting $99 million, a significant reduction to our already underfunded higher education system. With continued and relentless State Budget reductions, universities have had to look at ways to cut from their budget like eliminating degrees, reducing class options, increasing class sizes and layoffs, while at the same time increasing tuition rates.
In May, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities released a report showing Arizona leading the nation in cuts to higher education since the Great Recession. Our state now spends 47% less per college student than we did in 2008, which is more than double the national average of higher education cuts. This leads to higher tuition rates to make up for lost revenue, putting up a higher barrier for high school graduates who might not be able to afford college.
These cuts have become the “new realityâ€ in Arizona, but it should not and cannot be our state’s future. Our state leadership needs to act now.
In late June, the State of Arizona ended the fiscal year with $250 million more in its coffers than originally expected. These aren’t imaginary dollars or funds that are locked into an agency. This is money that could be used right now to minimize the drastic cuts to the higher education system and provide financial stability to these institutions.
Post-secondary education institutions aren’t just designed to enlighten our children; they provide an educated and trained workforce for companies to hire. Arizona’s long term economic success and competitiveness are directly tied to our ability to educate our workforce.
As Eileen Klein, the President of the Arizona Board of Regents, has noted time and again, two-thirds of jobs in Arizona will soon require some type of postsecondary education.Â Investing in our students and post-secondary options is the most important investment we can make to stabilize our state’s economy and attract new business opportunities for future college graduates.
If our kids can’t afford a post-secondary education, it’s very likely they won’t be able to compete for quality, high-wage jobs.
We know K-12 education and results need to improve but we must remember the links between K-12 and post-secondary education. Right now, barely half of Arizona high school graduates enroll in a post-secondary institution immediately following graduation and less than 1 in 5 Arizona high school students have a degree from a four-year institution anywhere in the country.
Increasing student success at the K-12 level will help our universities meet a key strategic goal of providing more students with a college education to foster the educated workforce Arizona needs, and better position the state to compete in the global economy.
To use a sports analogy, it doesn’t do our team any good if our students make it through the third quarter ahead but can’t finish the fourth quarter and wind up losing. Higher education funding is the boost to ensure we give our children all the possible tools to finish the game strong and prepared to join the workforce.
We can’t afford to wait a year and a half to start funding higher education. It’s time for Arizona to create our “new reality” and ensure the opportunity to attend a post-secondary school is available to every child.