Arizona higher ed: Deepest cuts, biggest tuition increases since 2008




    Balloons and streamers fly following the Arizona State University's W. P. Carey School of Business Convocation ceremony at Wells Fargo Arena on Dec. 14, 2015. Photo by Charlie Leight | ASU Now

    In the decade since Arizona lawmakers made deep cuts to public colleges and universities in response to massive budget deficits during the Great Recession, the economy has recovered but state spending on higher education continues to lag. 

    And because Arizona students have seen the steepest cut in state support, they have seen the largest tuition increases, according to a new report on higher education funding nationally – and those increases are disproportionately affecting students of color.

    Researchers for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that Arizona has cut per-student spending on colleges and universities by almost 55% between 2008 and 2018, far and away the worst in the nation. Five other states – Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania – saw spending cuts of more than 30% during that time period. 

    State funding for higher ed

    In terms of raw dollars, Arizona’s per-student funding cut of $3,669 was the fourth-worst nationally, trailing Alabama, Louisiana and New Mexico.

    The national average was a 13-percent cut in per-student funding, or about $1,220 per student.

    One result of the cuts in state funding has been skyrocketing tuition. Students in Arizona have seen the largest dollar increase in tuition since 2008, and now pay on average $5,384 more per year. That is nearly $600 more than Louisiana, which raised tuition about $4,800.

    Higher ed tuition increases

    Average tuition at a four-year Arizona public university is now $11,210 a year, a stunning 92.4% more than in 2008. The national average increase was 37%, or about $2,700.

    Higher tuition rates have fueled increases in student debt. “Onerous debt burdens make it more difficult for students to reach economic stability, costing resources that could instead go towards paying rent, saving for emergencies, or investing in the future,” the CBPP researchers wrote.

    The researchers also found that the higher tuition is acutely affecting minority students in Arizona. While white families are paying 22% of their household income for tuition on average, Latino families are paying 30% and African American families are paying 31%.

    “While more students of color are enrolling in college, rising tuition and fees is a headwind to this trend as students of color are less likely to enroll as the cost of tuition goes up,” the researchers wrote.

    Jim Small
    Jim Small is a native Arizonan and has covered state government, policy and politics since 2004, with a focus on investigative and in-depth policy reporting, first as a reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times, then as editor of the paper and its prestigious sister publications, the Yellow Sheet Report and Arizona Legislative Report. Under his guidance, the Capitol Times won numerous state, regional and national awards for its accountability journalism and probing investigations into state government operations.