Asking too much

Published On:
Monday, February 22, 2010
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There are lots of expensive things in life — from a new car to higher education. Especially in tough economic times, the key to getting the most out of your money is spending smartly. You don’t buy a $50,000 BMW when all you can afford is a Honda Civic. And when you get that shiny new Civic, you expect your monthly payments to be constant. Honda can’t say, “Hey, sorry, we’re in a bit of a financial pinch right now. We’re going to need you to start paying more each month for your car than we originally told you. Is that cool?”

If you wanted to pay more for your car, you would have gotten a more expensive one to begin with. But the same thing happened when you chose your college.

So why is it that ASU thinks it can get away with dramatically increasing your costs?

ASU has proposed a 5 percent tuition increase for current students, not to mention doubling the economic recovery surcharge to hit $1,025. Add those together and you’re looking at about a 13 percent jump in the cost to attend this University next year.

Incoming students are facing a nearly 20 percent increase in tuition plus surcharge.

Doubling the surcharge on top of a tuition increase in the name of weathering an economic crisis? Sounds a bit backward, and hiding behind words like “investments” or “predictable increases” isn’t going to cut it.

When asked in a meeting with The State Press editorial board this month if the economic recovery surcharge will be renewed, President Michael Crow asked, “Has the economy recovered?”

But here’s a news flash for Crow: Students are facing the exact same economic downturn the University is, and our resources are nowhere near as expansive as ASU’s. The University cannot continue to rely on students as some inexhaustible resource when students aren’t getting any richer. The “starving college student” adage is already too close to a reality.

We understand that, by comparison to many other schools in the nation, we get a good value for our education here. But when individual students make the decision to invest in education, affordability is a major factor. You plan to pay what you can pay. Periodic tuition increases are, unfortunately, expected. But fees and surcharges? How can incoming students predict and plan for them when they are first applying to college? We’re already here and can barely keep up.

Crow also said in the meeting that the focus should be on financial aid, not just cost increases. But when the financial aid you received when you were a freshman doesn’t cover your costs as a junior, you’re in a bit of a pickle. Add in competition and a difficult-to-navigate system that lets people slip through the gaps, and you’re screwed.

Financial aid hasn’t kept up with the rising costs. It isn’t and won’t be enough for many students.

But there are other options. Regent Dennis DeConcini said Crow might want to put his New American University vision on hold for a while and consider a way to lower the financial burden on students. DeConcini also proposed a tuition freeze, although he is unsure of the support it would garner. He suggested a similar plan last year that failed.

Yes, we want to attend a high-quality school, but like DeConcini, we realize concessions need to be made. ASU is already a good school. It has grown considerably in the past few years, but right now affordability and accessibility should be more important than charging headfirst into a pie-in-the-sky New American University along a path subsidized by increasingly strained ASU students.

Right now, students have to support their own economic recoveries.

Hopefully the grossly inflated plan will be altered when it goes to the Arizona Board of Regents, because students cannot be seen as a compliant safety net for the University when it can’t get the funding it wants from other sources.