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Arizona universities recommend tuition or fee increases

Arizona State University

This year could mark the last time many Arizona university students are in the dark about how much their tuition rates will be when they ­graduate.

The state universities are moving toward multiyear ­tuition proposals that would ­allow students to know in ­advance what tuition rates will be for the next four years. The change comes partly at the ­urging of Gov. Jan Brewer, who in her January State of the State address said families are “flat-out tired” of unpredictable rates. Brewer asked the ­Arizona Board of Regents to set up a stable tuition model for in-state students.

Of the three state universities, only Northern Arizona University has something similar now with the Pledge Program, which freezes tuition rates for freshmen for eight ­semesters. On Friday, the University of Arizona proposed a guaranteed tuition plan for freshmen and transfer students that would be optional for current undergraduates.

Arizona State University has not proposed a guaranteed ­tuition but is not seeking a ­tuition increase for in-state ­undergraduates for the next school year.

Regents Chairman Rick Myers said knowing tuition rates in advance helps families and universities plan for the future.

“This idea of just going year to year and acting like we’re starting all over again doesn’t make sense,” he said, referring to the tradition of setting new tuition rates every year for all students.

The university presidents released their tuition proposals Friday, and the regents will vote on rates in April.

Recommendations include:

• Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s proposal to freeze tuition for next year for in-state undergrads. But he wants to add a $150- per-student fee to fund athletics. Undergraduate students at the state’s largest public university would pay $10,157 a year in tuition and fees.

• University of Arizona President Ann Weaver Hart’s proposal for a 2 percent increase for current in-state undergraduates to $10,581 a year from the current $10,391.

She also proposed a four-year “guaranteed tuition” plan for incoming students that would be 6 percent above what current in-state undergraduates pay. Students who attend UA now would have the option of joining if the math made sense to them. New rates would be set each year for each incoming freshman class.

• A plan for NAU’s rates to stay the same for most current students, because the university has a guaranteed-tuition strategy that locks in rates for eight semesters. Incoming freshmen would pay 2.6 percent more, or $9,989 a year, in tuition and fees under a proposal made by NAU President John Haeger.

The move to predictable rates is a sharp contrast to what happened during the recession. The regents nearly doubled tuition and fees after losing $428 million, or 50 percent, of their per-student state funding amid the fiscal crisis.

The increases tapered off in recent years as the economy improved. ASU, for example, froze tuition for the 2012-13 school year. ASU increased undergraduate tuition 3 percent for this school year.

University officials say most students don’t end up paying the sticker price, thanks to grants and scholarships.

Morgan Abraham, UA student-body president, is among those pushing for guaranteed tuition. He sees another advantage beyond predictability. The rates are good for four years, he said, so it’s an incentive to get a degree faster and save money in the end.

Guaranteed tuition, sometimes called fixed tuition, is something of a trend but is not the norm.

All public universities in Illinois offer fixed-tuition plans, as do some individual universities in other states, including the University of Kansas and George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

One downside: Guaranteed tuition may not save a family money over the long run. The anticipated increases are ­already baked into the freshman rate.

Guaranteed tuition also doesn’t cover special fees.

Students could still see their costs go up if universities start adding more fees. This phenomenon has come to be known as a “de facto tuition increases” in college circles.

The regents plan to discuss the tuition proposals in depth at a meeting in late March. Myers, the regents chairman, isn’t sure whether he would go as far as making them mandatory.

“We need to give people choices,” he said. “Personally, I think what’s important is that people have some sense of predictability and choice.”

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