When Governor Ducey signed the state’s fiscal 2017 budget today, he formalized a new way of thinking about Arizona’s public universities. With his pen, the governor recognized the importance of post-secondary education and committed financial support to state residents who want to seek a college degree.
As I have said on many occasions, we need to build a substantial population of skilled workers – what we at ASU call “master learners” – if we hope to attract to our state the kinds of businesses that will drive the economy of the 21st century. Now there is a growing consensus that Arizona’s future success will depend to a great degree on increasing the number of residents who not only graduate from high school but also go on to attain a post-secondary education.
The budget that the Legislature returned to the governor reflects a new funding model that was proposed by the Arizona Board of Regents and embraced by the governor in his original budget proposal. The new model prioritizes funds allotted to the state’s three public universities to directly support students from Arizona. While the $8 million specified for this purpose is relatively small given the actual cost of attendance for the tens of thousands of Arizona students, it was an important first step for the universities’ new strategic plan and I am confident that we can chart a course toward the day when fifty percent of the total cost of educating the next generation of Arizona’s leaders will be supported through state investment. There is no time like the present to begin increasing the investment in our students if we want to ensure a prosperous future for Arizona.
This year’s budget seems to mark a turning point. After steady cuts had reduced the state’s per-student investment in ASU by about 60 percent since the Great Recession of 2008, there were a number of welcome items in the package that the governor signed.
In addition to the embrace of the new funding model, the Legislature provided new funds for research into the area of political economy as well as a modest amount of funds above the governor’s original proposal that may be spent on educational programming and capital improvements. It also ended an annual budget “rollover” that had required us to carry a large account receivable on our books: this change sends a welcome signal that the state is once again on firm financial footing.
As we emerge from a difficult period, the state of our University is strong. We continue to attract and to graduate an increasing number of diverse, talented students. We started the academic year by celebrating ASU’s selection as the “most innovative” university in the nation, and we ended it by adding to our faculty two winners of the Nobel Prize.
With the new commitment to higher education represented by this state budget, I believe we can look to a future in which our commitment to access, excellence and impact will grow ever stronger in partnership with – and in service to – the people of Arizona.