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This week, the Arizona Board of Regents approved Arizona State University's tuition proposal for FY 2018-2019. In 2012, I promised that tuition for Arizona residents would not increase by more than three percent per year for a decade. Seven years into that commitment, I again proposed no increase in undergraduate resident tuition or program fees.
ASU has kept that promise while driving student retention and graduation rates to all-time highs. We have welcomed record freshman classes in size and quality, dramatically increased the number of undergraduates coming from families earning below Arizona's median income, and provided more than 84 percent of resident undergraduates from all income levels with need- or merit-based aid. In addition, 40 percent of our resident undergraduate students graduate debt-free.
As this year's tuition process draws to a close, I invite you to read my statement below on the proposal's passage and to learn more about institutional commitment to affordability and efficiency at affordability.asu.edu.
Last fall, we announced that the Thunderbird School of Global Management would relocate to become part of the ASU Downtown Phoenix campus and make changes to its graduate school curriculum and executive education program to more closely align with global needs. Our goal being to create new and exciting learning and engagement opportunities for students, faculty and the surrounding community. Wednesday's unanimous vote by the Phoenix City Council to invest $13.5 million in a new building for Thunderbird moved us one step closer to realizing that vision.
With this approval, construction of the school's approximately 90,000-square-foot building, next door to the Beus Center for Law and Society, can proceed next year with an anticipated official opening in 2021. I am also pleased to share that, beginning this summer, oversight of Thunderbird's excellence and innovation will transition to Dr. Sanjeev Khagram, a world-renowned expert in global management and leadership. Dr. Khagram will serve as the new director-general and dean as of July 1.
Thunderbird is an unparalleled institution whose presence on the Downtown Phoenix campus will enable new collaborative endeavors with other university units, including law, engineering and sustainability. I appreciate the continued confidence of the City of Phoenix in our partnership, and I look forward to seeing the continued growth of Thunderbird's tradition of excellence.
I also gave keynote remarks at the first University Innovation Alliance National Summit in Atlanta, Georgia. As the founding chair of the UIA, it was exciting to see how this effort to foster collaborative innovation among a network of higher education institutions has flourished, empowering national and international institutions to share valuable data, approaches to implementation and outcomes. The summit's overall goal is to provide colleges and universities with the connections, information and strategies for helping to close their attainment gaps.
Right now, traditional higher education models have yielded more than 44 million adults over 25 years of age who left college without a degree and a nearly 37 percent degree attainment gap between students from low- and high-income households. As states tackle the complex challenge of reaching their college attainment goals (60 percent in Arizona), the reality is that no one institution alone is capable of generating the amount of progress needed. Only by advancing new, nimble and efficient models designed to educate at scale with the help of partner networks can we hope to produce the number of skilled college graduates we need.
ASU is "all in" when it comes to diffusing and sharing information and experience to enhance student access and success for all, and we look forward to continuing to demonstrate leadership as part of UIA.
ASU is a longtime advocate of the role the Valley's waterways can play in invigorating the economy, recreation and overall quality of life for our local communities. This belief drives ASU's partnership, via our University City Exchange, with United States Senator John McCain and his vision to revive the former "Rio Salado Project."
Last week, I joined Cindy McCain, municipal and tribal leaders, and public and private stakeholders from across the metro area and tribal communities to launch "Rio Reimagined," a comprehensive regional initiative designed to serve as a vital conservation and water resource, while also bringing commercial and recreational offerings to residents from cities and tribal nations across the Valley of the Sun.
ASU is excited to support this ambitious endeavor to foster transformational connectivity and enhance the sustainability, natural beauty, health and prosperity of the communities we serve. Learn more below and visit rioreimagined.org for details.