Capping tuition hikes? Group wants to put initiative on 2016 ballot

Recent tuition hikes at Arizona's public universities are a big concern for students and their families.  Now a group called Save Our Students wants to put the issue on the ballot in 2016.

Their initiative would put a cap on any tuition hikes.  The cost could only increase according to the rate of inflation.

Years of cuts to university budgets, combined with consecutive tuition hikes are threatening to cut off affordability and access to college for thousands of students, but the group believes voters can put a cap on the soaring costs of higher education in our state.

Whether or not Arizona State University sophomore Axis Serrano finishes her degree depends more on the Arizona Board of Regents right now than her grades.  She's paying her own way through college.

"It's always scary that next year, there's a possibility I will have to pay more and it's even scarier that I might not come back because of the fact that I'd have to pay more," she said.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy priorities, Arizona has slashed spending per student by nearly 50 percent in the last seven years, while the cost of tuition has jumped by more than 80 percent.  But if Save Our Students succeeds in their ballot initiative, that trend could change.  The referendum would tie hikes in in-state college tuition to the Consumer Price Index.  Basically, the Board of Regents could only increase tuition by the rate of inflation -- about two or three percent a year.

"We're pretty confident we're going to get this thing on the ballot. We tested it, did a poll on it, 70 percent of the state supports it," said Save Our Students spokesman, Andy Barr.  "If we want an economy that has sustainable long term growth, that gets us out of the boom and bust cycle, we need people who are skilled workers, we need people with college degrees."

The group needs to collect about 150,000 signatures and while many welcome the idea, some students are more skeptical and worry about more than just the bottom line.

"I think there are a lot of levers that can be pulled.  I'm not sure this is better.. anything that can make tuition easier on me I'd appreciate, but I don't know if this is the best solution or if there are other options," said ASU graduate student Nicholas Knoble.

The initiative also aims to prevent lawmakers from cutting university budgets below a certain level.  If funding drops below that level, a two percent surcharge will be added to corporate income taxes to try to make up the difference.
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