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Arizona Board of Regents calls lawsuit over tuition hikes a ‘disappointment’

PHOENIX — The Arizona Board of Regents responded to a lawsuit filed by the state attorney general over an “unconstitutional” increase in tuition costs at the state’s three public universities, calling it a disappointment.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich filed the lawsuit on Friday, claiming that the board “dramatically and unconstitutionally” increased the price of in-state tuition and mandatory fees by “315 to 370 percent” in the last 15 years.

The suit also claimed that the board’s decision to grant in-state tuition to undocumented students under the former DACA program “[risked] triggering a federal requirement that in-state tuition benefits must be extended to all U.S. citizens.”

In a statement released on Monday, Regents Chair Bill Ridenour said the lawsuit does “nothing to change the burden for students and their families.”

“The suit is full of attacks, but offers no constructive remedies. The justice [Brnovich] seeks will not, and should not, be found at the courthouse,” the statement continued.

Brnovich said the board’s tuition-setting policy does not “comply with the constitutional mandate,” which requires tuition at state universities to be “as nearly free as possible.”

Regents approved the most recent tuition increases at Arizona State University, Northern Arizona University and University of Arizona in April. Tuition and fees increased by 1.4 percent at ASU, 3.9 percent at the UA and 2.7 percent at NAU.

But Ridenour said the challenges of increasing college costs are the result of “a massive defunding of public higher education accompanied by a seismic cost shift that has moved education from a shared responsibility to an individual responsibility.”

Ridenour also called for a “rational statewide discussion, without political pandering, regarding our entire education structure and funding model for K-12 and higher education, including university education.”

State funding cuts have been a major factor in the rising costs for higher education in Arizona.

A report by the Legislature’s budget analysts shows that inflation-adjusted state funding has gone from about $9,600 per student in the 2008 budget year to $3,500 in the 2017 year. Universities have raised tuition to make up the difference.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

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