The Arizona Board of Regents is on the leading edge of improving the university system as an entrepreneurial enterprise implementing key reforms and focusing on performance. The results show this improvement: student performance is increasing, research investments have created jobs and over $1 billion in economic activity, and efforts are underway to reduce costly and unnecessary regulations. The fact is our state leaders should be looking to invest in higher education, not cut it further.
Board Chairman Mark Killian is absolutely right when he says, “Arizona’s public university system is foundational to the state’s economic prosperity, yet our state leads the nation in funding cuts, significantly impeding our ability to be competitive and, more importantly, to serve our students. Arizona’s students and families simply cannot be the backstop to the fiscal challenges that our policymakers are trying to solve.”
And the voters agree. Late last year, HighGround conducted a statewide, 500 person survey of likely General Election voters. The survey sample was balanced across age, party and regional demographics to represent a 2016 General Election cycle. The survey showed that when faced with our current budget crisis, there is willingness by the Arizona electorate to protect key institutions through increased revenue:
Moreover, the survey also showed that there is strong support for Killian’s notion that university education provides the educated and trained workforce for companies to hire and that workforce drives Arizona’s long term economic success and competitiveness.
This idea is also reflected in President Eileen Klein’s latest statement, “It is time to tackle head-on the real issue, which is creating a sustainable model for our state’s public higher education system. We look forward to working with legislators to develop this model that enables the board to stay true to its mission of access and affordability for all Arizona residents and to allow our university system to be the catalyst for strong economic growth in our state. Any reductions will be made thoughtfully with input from key university constituencies.”
The survey tested the following argument on a mean scale of 1 to 5 and it received overwhelming support from the Arizona electorate with 82.4% AGREEMENT.
In testing options to balance the budget, there is opposition to most of the proposed cuts, with the strongest opposition coming to any reduction in K-12 funding and any efforts to increase university tuition. Again, these mean scores are on a scale of 1 to 5.
The previous legislature cut the budget more than any other in Arizona history. Today, approximately only 25% our public universities’ operating funds come from the state. Following the cuts starting in 2009, our universities found ways to increase efficiencies, cut some programs while combining others, and increased tuition when necessary. Tuition increases are no longer a viable option as there is across the board consensus from the Arizona electorate:
Other states who invested in higher education are recovering from the recession at a faster rate than states like Arizona. Finding ways to fund our higher education and K-12 needs are key elements of restoring our state’s economic health. The universities are creating a results-oriented system. They’re asking the state to fund them based on results that move the economy forward â€“ degrees produced and increases in research â€“ not just bodies in seats. The voters agree that we need to reform the model to fully transform state funding of our universities to encourage high performance entrepreneurial academic institutions that can offer top-flight education at affordable prices as our state’s constitution intended.