PHOENIX — The presidents of Arizona's three universities asked Friday to raise freshman tuition by 3 percent or less next year, releasing their opening proposals as budget talks heat up in the Legislature.
The Arizona Board of Regents wants the state to fund half of the cost of educating in-state students in three years, up from about a third now, and have asked the Legislature and Gov. Doug Ducey to increase state funding by $103 million next year.
Ducey's budget proposal in January would give universities a $35 million boost, plus $21 million for teacher training and $9 million in employee health care costs, which are currently subsidized with tuition dollars.
Budget analysts projected in January the state would have a surplus of more than $1 billion next year, though much of it is one-time money that can't be counted on to fund ongoing expenses. State tax collections have come in below projections since then, likely reducing the size of the surplus available for lawmakers to spend.
Following years of tuition hikes, Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich sued the university system in 2017 alleging tuition is so high it violates the state constitution's requirement that education be "as nearly free as possible." A Maricopa County Superior Court judge tossed the suit, ruling Brnovich has no authority to sue over the issue.
Brnovich, a Republican, has appealed to the state Court of Appeals and Supreme Court.
Arizona State University wants to restructure its tuition billing to eliminate dozens of program fees and thousands of course fees, instead charging students one of four tuition levels based on their major. Tuition and fees for in-state students would range between $11,328 and $12,378 per year.
The university says the average increase would be 2.8 percent for resident undergraduates, and ASU will offer financial aid to ensure no individual student sees more than a 3 percent increase. Tuition would rise on average by 4.8 percent for non-residents and 5.3 percent for international students.
ASU President Michael Crow promised seven years ago that in-state undergraduate tuition wouldn't rise by more than 3 percent a year for a decade. ASU said Friday it was renewing the pledge for another decade.
University of Arizona and Northern Arizona University promise undergraduates no tuition increases during the first four years.
At University of Arizona, new resident undergraduates would pay $12,671 in tuition and mandatory fees, a 2 percent increase. Some programs and classes carry additional costs. Out-of-state student costs would go up 1 percent.
NAU proposes a 2.5 percent tuition increase and $70 in mandatory fees, bringing the annual cost to $11,896.
The Board of Regents will consider public input before finalizing tuition and fees for next school year. The board is scheduled for a meeting April 11 in Tucson.
The Arizona Students Association, a lobby group, opposes all tuition and fee increases after students have gradually absorbed years of higher costs, said Executive Director Cesar Aguilar. He called for the Legislature to significantly increase funding for higher education, saying "we are all headed to a dark future in student loans."
"We have led students to a scary numbness of tuition increases," Aguilar said.