In the last three years, Arizona's universities have sold dorms, eliminated 2,100 positions systemwide, forced employees to take multiple days off with no pay, merged colleges, reduced class offerings and put more and more students in classrooms.
Today, they're at record enrollment - and record tuition.
That tuition will likely hike up again, as the Arizona Board of Regents prepares to vote this week on rates for the 2011-12 school year.
"It's a terrible predicament. It's an impossible choice," Regent Fred DuVal told the Tribune this week. "Do we raise the costs or eliminate the programs they're purchasing when they pay their tuition?"
In fall 2008, resident students new to Arizona State University paid $5,410 in annual base tuition. Next year, those students - in their fourth year of college - could pay $8,228 a year, 52 percent more.
The Arizona Students Association says the average student tuition at the three state universities combined has gone up 63 percent in the last three years.
Arizona's three universities presented their tuition proposals to the Regents several weeks ago, based on Gov. Jan Brewer's planned $170 million cut to the system. But under a plan agreed to early Friday, universities will now have to cut $28 million more.
While that won't change the proposals the presidents made regarding tuition, it could change the discussion the Regents have this week. The universities will have to find more money elsewhere through savings, cuts or additional tuition.
Last week, students cried out against what they said are already steep increase proposals during tuition hearings held and webcast from ASU, UA and NAU.
Many blame state lawmakers.
ASU's student government leaders issued a letter of support for President Michael Crow's tuition proposal, stating it is a solution with the "lowest impact possible to students" based on the cuts in Arizona and the loss of federal stimulus dollars.
Per student spending by Arizona into the university system now matches the level of the 1970s, DuVal said. State payments to the schools have been cut by $230 million since 2008.
But many students do not pay the full sticker price of tuition because of help from scholarships, grants and other financial aid. DuVal said the average tuition paid is $2,500.
"Roughly half the students are paying significantly discounted tuition," he said. "It's a complicated picture, but there's no question raising tuition is going to price students out of access. It's equally troubling that cutting availability of programs will eliminate degrees the Arizona economy and our students require."
Under ASU's plan announced last month, current ASU resident students in their second year would see a nearly 16 percent increase in tuition, from $7,793 to $9,033 a year.
Resident students new to ASU or no longer on a tuition commitment program would pay $9,208 a year, or more than 18 percent more than freshmen paid this year.
Resident graduate students could see a 14 percent increase to $9,709.
ASU students also pay mandatory fees, this year totaling $335 annually for items like the Arizona Financial Aid Trust, health and wellness, and the student recreation center. At Northern Arizona University, most students paid mandatory fees of $703 this year. University of Arizona students on the main campus paid $623.
Some students also pay fees for the colleges they enroll in.
Political science freshman Moriah Costa, 19, said she was surprised this year by the $500 fee she has to pay each semester as a student in the ASU Barrett Honors College. Though scholarships, like the Regents High Honors Scholarship, help pay most of her tuition and living costs, Costa took out a loan this year to help with other expenses.
"When I came here I realized, ‘Wow this is a lot of money.' I have to pay $12,000 a year just to live on campus (room and board). That's something I really didn't take into account. I don't think a lot of people think about it," she said.
If her scholarships don't cover the expected tuition hike, and her Pell grant gets cut as proposed by Congress, Costa said she may take out another loan next year.
ASU is proposing new fees for several programs. Under the plan, all students seeking a journalism degree will pay $250 a semester in addition to tuition. Currently, that fee applies only to juniors and seniors.
Freshmen and sophomores seeking a bachelor's degree in business could be subject to a new $800 annual fee. New students seeking a degree in professional golf management or a bachelor's of science in nursing will pay $1,000 a semester under the proposed changes.