Like many middle-class parents, we promised our kids that we would pay for their college education, a reasonable promise in the 1980s from two parents who were teachers. We are still paying off their college loans in 2014, yet we feel lucky compared to students and families who are paying off college loans accrued between 2008 and 2014.
Arizona funding for higher education is down 48.3 percent, the most in the nation; and tuition is up 80.6 percent, the most in the nation. At the same time, median household income grew by only 3 percent, so college tuition grew by 159 percent in real terms (Cronkite News).
Although the Arizona Constitution states higher education should be “as nearly free as possible,” I want to offer two additional reasons for reinstating state funding of our universities.
The potential for our state and our country to be globally competitive has been compromised by having the deepest cuts in funding. The university system cut more than 2,100 positions; merged, consolidated, or eliminated 182 colleges, schools, programs, and departments; and closed eight extension campuses (Cronkite News). In addition to having a negative economic impact on the communities surrounding the universities, student options were dramatically minimized.
At a time when our country needs graduates who are globally competitive, we are making access to a college education more difficult. We are risking student success and lowering graduation rates by increasing class sizes and decreasing the number of full-time, tenure-track professors; and by cutting vital student services such as counseling, career guidance, and tutoring.
In other words, at a time when Arizona ranks at the bottom in a country that has already slipped to 15th in college graduation and 21st in high school graduation compared with other industrialized nations, our Legislature’s funding cuts create even more hindrances for students to achieve access to higher education and to achieve success once there.
The potential for our state to recover and develop economically has been compromised by having the deepest cuts in funding. There is a strong causal correlation between how well educated a state workforce is and a state’s economic strength, and states with a well-educated workforce have economies that support much higher-paying jobs. Arizona is at the bottom because of its under funding of education at all levels, pre-kindergarten through university.
An Economic Policy Institute report concluded that the best way to ensure both economic prosperity and job creation is to invest in education. Their simple message for state-level policy makers: “If you educate them, jobs will come.”
Through legislative funding cuts to higher education, Arizona is:
• Losing access to quality higher education.
• Jeopardizing student success in higher education.
• Rendering Arizona students and workers less globally competitive.
• Gambling with our economic prosperity.
• Imperiling job creation.
Arizonans can get higher education, economic prosperity, and job creation back on track by electing legislators who hold education as a priority for policy and action, not simply as a political sound bite to obscure their actual voting records.
• Chandler resident Janie Hydrick is the Democrat candidate for Legislative District 18 Senate.