All over the state, parents and students are rallying against budget cuts to Arizona's public colleges and universities. Instead of focusing ire at legislators, who are literally between a rock and a hard place, there's another avenue these newly-minted activists could pursue. For Arizonans concerned about increasing access to post-secondary education in our state, why not focus on loosening up state regulations that are choking higher education's private sector?
Numerous laws make it a crime to open a private post-secondary or vocational school in Arizona without state approval. These laws result in fewer schools and fewer opportunities for both students and educators. Legislators could embrace academic freedom by deregulating private schooling and let the market work.
Arizona pervasively criminalizes entrepreneurs who teach or open a school without government approval. It is a Class 3 misdemeanor to open a private post-secondary school that offers a degree of any kind without approval from the State Board of Private Post-Secondary Schooling. Osteopaths and medical doctors cannot teach without a license. Private cosmetology and radiologic technology schools cannot legally open their doors without approval from state agencies.
The regulation of nursing schools is a particularly outrageous case in point. Despite the shortage of health-care workers in this state and elsewhere, Arizona law makes it a Class 6 felony to open a nursing school without approval from the State Board of Nursing. The risk of jail time for teaching nursing even extends to out-of-state schools who want to offer Arizonans the option of distance learning.
There is no need for these draconian laws because private post-secondary or vocational schools are already self-regulating. To compete with other schools and qualify for national accreditation, just about every school voluntarily meets minimum educational standards.
Arizona's heavy-handed regulation does nothing to promote quality or prevent fraud. It only stops the free market from giving students and educators viable alternatives to the taxpayer-funded public university and community college system. And by fostering an artificial scarcity of educational options, the regulation of private schooling magnifies any pain associated with the loss of public funding for higher education.
Arizonans can have it all: access to an excellent higher education without abandoning principles of fiscal responsibility. All the state needs to do is decriminalize private schooling and let people freely teach and learn.
Nick Dranias holds the Goldwater Institute Clarence J. and Katherine P. Duncan chair for constitutional government and is the director of the Institute's Dorothy D. and Joseph A. Moller Center for Constitutional Government.
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