Lawmaker: Arizona Spends Too Much on Higher Education

The head of the House Appropriations Committee in Arizona believes that the state is spending too much money on students for a university education they don’t even need.

As lawmakers decide how much more money to give the state university system, Rep. John Kavanagh said in an interview that not everyone should go to college, especially when they are using the state’s tax money. “If somebody’s going to end up in a sales position or someone’s going to be a real estate agent, why are we investing all this money in a research university degree?” he said. “What’s the purpose of it?”

He continued by saying that decades ago only the best students got a university degree, and “Now, almost anybody can go to college.” He urges the state to “dramatically look at our entire philosophy of higher education.”

Arizona Governor Jan Brewer proposed a no-growth budget for schools. Arizona State and Northern Arizona University will get their last payment on a multiyear promise to match what the University of Arizona (UA) was getting for per-student funding. And UA will be getting $15 million with strings attached: giving money for the next five years to a private organization to help commercialize theoretical biomedical research.

Rick Myers, chairman of the Board of Regents at Arizona State, said universities need to be good at more than just technical fields. The Board asked for $100 million to help maintain the quality of education without burdening students with higher tuition costs.  He agrees with Kavanagh from an economic standpoint, saying that Arizona was hit hard during the recession and that not everyone needs a university degree:

“It’s because we went into it with one of the lowest per-capita incomes, with one of the lowest-educated workforces in the nation,” he said. “We haven’t had the robust economy we need to isolate ourselves from some of this.”

Myers disagrees with Kavanagh, saying that the state does need more college graduates. Arizona has a low percentage of adults with college degrees. Kavanagh says that will not lead to higher paying jobs. His suggestion is to focus on increasing standards for high school students that will allow them to take engineering courses at the college level:

“If a student can’t even spell ‘calculus’ when they graduate from high school, how are they going to go into engineering and fill these positions?” he asked.

Kavanagh said that does not mean Arizona should instead throw more money into K-12 education because more funding does not equal higher achievement.

The state department of administration found in a report last year that one-half of the expected job openings in Arizona would require only a high school diploma. The demand is expected to be for cashiers, waiters, and food prep workers.