Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Goldwater Institute: Arizona Universities Need New Priorities, Not New Buildings

Grab a Brew, Don't Cost Nothin'

by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.

On May 1, the state Senate Higher Education committee held a hearing on a proposal from Arizona's state universities to build new facilities ostensibly to stimulate the economy. Governor Napolitano, Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon and Arizona State University President Michael Crow all spoke in favor. Their message was that this new debt would more than pay for itself by increasing the number of Arizona workers with college degrees.

Tempe Mayor Hugh Hallman stole the show, noting that ASU students have a high per capita beer consumption rate, and that all that beer money provides an economic stimulus to Tempe. Just when you think you've heard it all.

Hallman's observation, however, might better explain graduation rates. Don't get me wrong. I drank my share of beer as an undergraduate--someone else's too. Nevertheless, I managed to graduate in four years, something 73 percent of ASU students fail to do. The Education Trust rated ASU against seven peer institutions and found ASU had the lowest six-year graduation rate of the bunch.

If we need additional graduates, the place to start is with more focus on the absurdly low graduation rates.

The "stimulus plan" would require 80 million dollars a year in debt service. A fraction of that amount could pay for lots of financial aid, tutoring, and even the additional course offerings that some students might need to graduate on time. I've yet to hear the sad story of the student who dropped out of college for lack of fancy new buildings.

This begs the question: do Arizona universities need new buildings, or new priorities?

Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president of research at the Goldwater Institute.

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