Sunday, February 1, 2009

Responses to Some Frequently Asked Questions and Concerns

Do I (author) have something personal to gain from this proposal?
No, there is nothing of value (financially or politically) for me to gain as I am neither a lobbyist nor an employee of any university or municipality. Rather, I am a concerned Arizona resident and a recent graduate of ASU who is interested in promoting increased access, competition, and accountability to a public university education for many more Arizonans. I already shared this proposal with ASU, ABOR, and the Arizona Legislature.

How is this different than ABOR's 2004-2005 proposal to separate ASU West?
My restructuring proposal merges two ASU branch campuses (West and Polytechnic) into a "complete", free-standing state university (AzTech) that is then housed at the Polytechnic campus location. It is not financially feasible to put this new university at the West campus because relocating the engineering and technology programs is expensive and impractical. Moreover, the Polytechnic campus is better positioned along the growing Phoenix-Tucson
"sun corridor" for this merger to succeed. ASU's Tempe & Downtown Phoenix campuses are still accessible to the West Valley via freeway, and upcoming light-rail and bus rapid transit links connecting the East & West Valleys will make ASU feel even closer for the West Valley.

The current ASU West faculty would not have to lose their research responsibilities upon relocating to AzTech. ASU already "gutted" the West campus by disestablishing many of its original degree programs, including business and human services. There are no separate governing boards under my plan because all public universities within Arizona would still report directly to the existing governing board (ABOR). Transforming ASU West into a "low-cost" state university remains consistent with ABOR's previous attempt and publicly stated goal of establishing an instructional-based state university to increase bachelors degrees.

What about accreditation?
The Arizona University System shall initiate a Change of Control request with the Higher Learning Commission to begin the accreditation process for PSU and AzTech. Likewise, a separate ABET acceditation process must occur to transfer ASU Polytechnic's Engineering and Technology programs to AzTech. During this time, it is expected that PSU and AzTech would share ASU's accreditations thereby allowing students to remain eligible for financial aid. Currently enrolled students would have the option to graduate with a degree from ASU within a reasonable time period or they can graduate under the new university. It will take at least a few years before separate accreditations are officially awarded to PSU and AzTech.

Why break-up ASU and change its direction?
ASU West's emergence in the 1980's came about when ASU was in a different stage of its development. Back then, ASU was not a Research I institution but more like a regional university with a lower cost structure. There was little emphasis on rankings, research grants, and endowments. Today, ASU (Tempe and Downtown Phoenix) is a heavy research institution with a higher cost structure that competes aggressively with highly selective universities across the country for exclusive research grants and top national rankings. The founders of ASU West (Barbara and Sterling Ridge) told me that they originally envisioned the West campus as a free-standing and non-research state university; however, politics later resulted in its beginnings as an upper-division, branch campus connected to ASU.

ASU's per pupil funding during the housing boom was about double its rate today. During that time, ASU supported a large variety of programs at the West & Polytechnic campuses while competing directly with the local community colleges for new student enrollments despite receiving a lower per pupil funding level than UA. However, the Great Recession has severely reduced funding to the university system with ASU at risk of even lower per pupil funding in the near future. Moreover, public university enrollments have reached record levels and are projected to increase into the future. As a result, ASU's tuition rates have skyrocketed during these last few years, in part to subsidize some low-income students and has created a huge financial hardship for other low income and middle class AZ residents. And, Arizona's poverty rate has since grown and it is now among the highest in the nation.

With this new funding level reality, it is difficult for ASU to operate the West and Polytechnic campuses while still serving its core mission as a heavy research institution. In other words, the State of Arizona cannot afford to put research at both the West & Polytechnic campuses for a large volume of undergraduate students. Hence, my proposal merges the West campus academic programs and research with the Polytechnic campus, thereby freeing up the West campus to transform itself into an independent, low-cost, and non-research state university (which is found in many other large metro areas) to increase affordability, accessibility, and capacity to a public university education for many more Arizonans. While working adults may find on-line education to be convenient, most traditional age students want to receive their on-campus education and these student populations are much larger and still growing.

What about the money and costs necessary for this restructuring?
Yes, extra funding and cash infusions are necessary. However, additional funding is also necessary to maintain the status quo. Instead of pumping more money into supporting a fragmented, mega-university (ASU) whose existing resources are already stretched out too thin, this money is better used to consolidate the university system (PSU and AzTech) to educate more undergraduate students at a lower per-unit cost. Irregardless of funding levels, it is still inefficient and costly for any state (Arizona) to educate a supermajority of its undergraduate students with its heavy research institutions (ASU and UA), especially with high costs that will continue to increase as they compete with other peer universities.

The goal is to reduce the undergraduate admissions and overcrowding at the higher-cost UA and ASU Tempe campuses by providing sufficient alternatives for many students who still want a university education while in an urban area, but at a lower tuition rate and separate brand than ASU, NAU, and UA. As a result, taxpayers can support many more students who attend these lower-cost state universities (PSU and AzTech) and overall affordability then increases for all students throughout the university system. Elevating the West and Polytechnic campuses into free-standing state universities reflects a commitment and investment from the State of Arizona to continue funding public university education.

The Arizona University System should begin restructuring itself now and not "stall for time" to pursue some other agenda or ideology, especially since the federal stimulus dollars expire in fiscal year 2012, the sales tax rate decreases by 1% in 2013, and the business tax cuts are then activated soon thereafter. Middle class and working class Arizona families cannot afford the state universities' "high-tuition, high-aid" tuition discounting model, unlike the wealthy who can still afford the luxury of enrolling their children into private and out-of-state institutions.

What is the effect of the growing population?
Greater Phoenix's current population of 4.3 million is already too big for any one university (ASU) to have monopoly power as a free-standing state university and its future population by 2025 is projected to have grown by 1 million. The varying demographic and geographic differences necessitate separate public universities that further diversify and specialize as a function of cost structure, learning style, mission, rankings, and branding so as to maximize student success and institutional innovation. Also, a large percentage of people still migrate from rural Arizona and from outside of Arizona into Greater Phoenix who seek educational and employment opportunities. PSU and AzTech can assist with this population expansion.
And, unlike ASU, PSU and AzTech need not require first-year students to live on-campus.

As the population rates of Greater Phoenix and Greater Arizona continue to increase, the existing higher education infrastructure of 3 public universities remains insufficient even for the current population size. PSU and AzTech (along with the AZ community colleges) provide the physical space and capacity to educate tens of thousands of undergraduate students at a lower per unit cost while permitting the heavy research universities (ASU and UA) to limit enrollments by issuing enrollment caps to further control their excessive costs and student overcrowding. For example, ASU recently capped new student enrollments in March 2009 due to a lack of state funding for its higher per-student costs. PSU, AzTech, and NAU emphasize undergraduate access and can serve as a pipeline for Arizona residents to pursue their graduate/doctoral studies at a heavy research university in-state (ASU or UA).

Does this separation result in low-quality institutions?
Absolutely not! The curriculum and faculty at PSU and AzTech will each promote academic excellence and increased access to an undergraduate education. Although their rankings will not equal the national reputations of ASU & UA, neither does NAU and yet NAU is still considered a quality university. And, the presidents of PSU and AzTech (along with ASU, NAU, UA) would each report directly to ABOR, thereby ensuring parity, quality control, and legitimacy for all AZ universities. If many Arizonans perceive four-year degrees from community colleges as being "reputable", then it is reasonable to assume that significantly more Arizonans would perceive four-year degrees from PSU as being "highly reputable." Likewise, most people would rank PSU "more highly" than many for-profit universities.

Students who are picky about the name of a university can still apply to a "national brand" university (ASU or UA); however, other students are happy to enroll in a "regional brand" university (PSU, AzTech, NAU) if this results in having greater choices, accessibility, and affordability to a university education. For example, two universities in Utah and Colorado with the largest undergraduate enrollments are low-cost, non-research state universities called Utah Valley University and Metropolitan State University. Both are popular despite each having a name and a brand that is less recognizable and less prestigous than Utah State University & University of Utah and Colorado State University & University of Colorado. Moreover, a generic university education is still more reputable than having no university education, especially since Arizonans have a low university education attainment rate.

PSU and AzTech shall each promote student success to a public university education for additional Arizonans, especially among its under-served and non-competitive student populations. For example, PSU (as an instructional university) would embrace a stronger teaching emphasis, which allows many students who might otherwise have difficulty when attending a heavy research university (ASU and UA) to thrive in such a stronger learning environment. Likewise, AzTech (as a polytechnic) would offer students a stronger applied problem solving approach to learning compared to ASU and UA. PSU and AzTech will then increase the enrollment, retention, and graduation rates for the Arizona University System.

Isn't this just creating additional burreacracies?
Not exactly, because these campuses become free-standing state universities under local control (via coordination through ABOR) instead of following the decision-making from a central university (ASU). Arizona already has too few public universities for its population size; thus, this restructuring plan presents an opportunity to close the gap in the number of available public universities while saving the West & Polytechnic campuses from collapse. This is analogous to a large county having multiple high schools and community colleges, including Maricopa County's 10 community colleges each having its own administration and accreditation. A centralized administration does not guarantee efficiency since it can still use multiple layers. Some critics accuse ASU and UA of having "administrative bloat."

Greater Phoenix's large population size and the conversion of existing university branch campuses then provide the necessary cost-effectiveness for operating additional public universities, especially if each university has a different cost structure. For example, the corresponding senior administrative expenses at PSU and AzTech would each be less than ASU and UA and are partially offset by spreading those costs across tens of thousands of students at PSU and AzTech along with the savings from educating not too many students at the higher cost ASU and UA. In addition, ASU and UA can reduce expenses and layers from their own centralized administrations, thereby reducing their existing burreacracies. And, new administrative services at PSU and AzTech could be phased in over time, as needed.

What about the role of the community colleges?
Although the community colleges do not offer upper-division courses or four-year degrees, they still play an important role in Arizona higher education and are expected to form even stronger partnerships with the state universities to provide for more seamless transfers. However, the community colleges should avoid conflicting their mission on providing Arizonans with open access to remedial, vocational, community, and transfer education (especially since Arizona's K-12 per pupil expenditures are among the nation's lowest) and should increase the percentage of full-time faculty for the lower-division academic courses.

The Arizona University System is dumping too many students onto community colleges which is noteworthy since the community college graduation rate is not high and transfer students are generally less likely to graduate in a timely manner. Many students attending community colleges are already capable of handling university-level instruction but are not doing so to avoid the expensive tuitions and crowded conditions at ASU and UA, including many students who "reverse-transfer" from these universities to a local community college.
Thus, community colleges should not replace the role of having a regional state university.

PSU and AzTech would provide the capacity and the economies of scale to educate tens of thousands of undergraduate students across dozens of degree programs for many students who still expect a university experience at a traditional campus location. Congestion is then reduced at the Pima and Maricopa Community Colleges because college-bound, high school graduates could directly enroll at PSU or AzTech as a lower cost alternative to ASU and UA. And, full-time students who begin at a regional university generally have higher completion rates of bachelors degrees than students who begin at a community college. Nevertheless, community college students will have more state universities to consider transferring into.

What about attracting more private colleges and universities?
More private higher education institutions should certainly be encouraged and recruited to come to Arizona, especially since Arizona historically has had too few private colleges and universities, particularly the not-for-profit ones. However, Arizona still has too few public universities for its population size and private institutions alone cannot provide the extra capacity necessary to meet the demands of tens of thousands of students within Arizona.

What about the economic impact of PSU and AzTech?
PSU offers Arizonans with increased access to an affordable, general academic university in an instructional-intensive environment. PSU's proposed specialty programs in allied health and public safety can support the growing healthcare and emergency services industries in Arizona. PSU can also produce a high volume of low-cost business and education degrees to satisfy the growing demand for small business professionals and K-12 school teachers in AZ. PSU can attract Industry and jobs to the West Valley and should it offer any intercollegiate athletics, it could potentially use the existing arena and stadiums located throughout the West Valley.

AzTech's specialty programs in aviation and technology are consistent with initiatives from Science Foundation Arizona and the Arizona Technology Council to attract high-paying aerospace, energy, and technology jobs by educating more Arizonans in STEM programs. AzTech continues Polytechnic's existing research programs and partnerships including algae biofuels, unmanned aircraft, and Air Force Research Lab and the relocated liberal arts programs offer new, complementary research areas such as food safety and global security.

PSU & AzTech will serve as reliever institutions and alternative choices away from the high-cost and overcrowded ASU & UA, especially since 80% of all Arizonans live in the Greater Phoenix and Tucson regions. This allows ASU & UA to each focus on generating additional heavy research and achieving top national rankings for its entire university (with the whole being greater than the sum of its parts) with positive results still benefiting all Arizonans.

Arizona high school students have among the lowest college-going and college-completion rates in America. PSU and AzTech can help satisfy the state goal of doubling the production of quality bachelors degrees to increase Arizona's higher educational attainment, which is necessary if Arizonans want to stay competitive in the national and global marketplace. Thus, Arizona can substantially increase its recruitment and retention of high-paying jobs.

What about PSU and/or AzTech being part of ASU (or any other university)?
No, the point is to establish autonomy and not subsidize the expensive operations of ASU, NAU, & UA while providing healthy competition and greater choices. A branch campus or subsidiary does not provide the necessary institutional independence, thereby resulting in manipulation and exploitation. As a recent example, "piggybacking" off ASU's name resulted in the loss of academic programs, leadership, students, and appropriations funding at the West and Polytechnic campuses. In addition, universities do constrain enrollments at their branch campuses; however, PSU and AzTech could substantially increase their enrollments as free-standing state universities, thereby allowing additional appropriations dollars (per-pupil) to flow directly into PSU and AzTech, especially with enrollment caps at ASU and UA.

Local control allows students, faculty, philanthropists, and the neighboring communities and municipalities freedom "to take ownership", which includes providing advocacy, partnerships, fundraising, and bonding towards university development. Although the West & Polytechnic campuses each receive separate line-item appropriations funding, PSU and AzTech would then have its own budget, a complete set of programs housed on-site, and local control of its curriculum which could support local and regional economic development while avoiding the power struggles and controversies from association with ASU (or any other university).

Why not keep the existing ASU differentiated campus model?
Separate institutional identities and branding with local control are important because all universities rely on alumni, fundraising, endowments, and local partnerships as indicators of performance and community involvement. A fragmented, jumbo university (ASU) might not attract enough support to substantially increase these indicators at all (four) campuses; however, PSU and AzTech (as separate universities) could each do this for its own campus. The West and Polytechnic campuses had lost some influence because many of their original degree programs were either disestablished or relocated to the Downtown Phoenix campus.

Furthermore, the West & Polytechnic campuses are each located too far away for students to take classes back and forth between either campus and the main campus in Tempe. In contrast, the Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses are located near one another and have relatively short travel times especially with the convenience of light rail transit. It is unrealistic and impractical to expect full-time faculty to travel among the campuses. Also, many students at the West and Polytechnic campuses cannot find all of their classes at one campus, thus requiring them to travel to either the Tempe or Downtown Phoenix campus.

On the other hand, the West & Polytechnic campuses are not located far away enough for students to avoid the high-cost Tempe campus because under ASU's "One University in Many Places", there is not a strong enough incentive for students to attend the West or Polytechnic campus. Why would many students want to attend the "Fake ASU" (West or Polytechnic campus) when within driving distance the "Real ASU" (Tempe or Downtown Phoenix campus) embraces the same institutional identity at a very similar tuition rate while offering many more amenities and higher ranked degree programs and faculty?

It is easier to self-contain costs and charge a different tuition rate for a specific campus if the West & Polytechnic campuses are encapsulated and branded as separate, free-standing state universities (PSU & AzTech) instead of sharing the high overhead costs of ASU. This results in each campus having an unambiguous identity with a separate mission and cost structure that can better account for the variance in operating expenses, types of degrees offered, levels of services provided, and the intensity of research to be incurred at each institution.

Is my proposal a solution in search of a problem?
My solution is not in search of a problem, because the problem of not having enough public universities to educate Greater Phoenix's population of 4.1 million people and the State of Arizona's population of 6.8 million is very real. Arizona still has the same number of public universities as it did 50 years ago and yet look at the population change. The ASU West and Polytechnic campuses are under-utilized and must necessarily expand to take advantage of the available space to accomodate the tens of thousands of current and future AZ students since the main campuses of ASU, NAU, UA and the community colleges do not have room.

ASU's "One University in Many Places" is a myth because it is too expensive to put the heavy research programs at the branch campuses and ASU does not want to do this anyways. Likewise, ASU will still keep its top-ranked programs and faculty at the Tempe & Downtown Phoenix campuses. The West and Polytechnic campuses should each offer its own complete set of programs on-site; however, they cannot do so while affiliated with ASU because the Tempe & Downtown Phoenix campuses will see this as a redundancy and as a direct threat to their own rankings. Moreover, ASU does not want its branch campuses to provide direct competition and during budget downturns, West & Polytechnic are likely to get cut first.

ASU is using the West & Poly campuses to establish a "mighty empire" by hoarding student enrollments and milking its state appropriations funding and federal financial aid dollars to satisfy a silly marketing slogan such as "the largest public research university under a single administration" or "nation's largest public university by enrollment" while having those students subsidize the costly doctoral research programs, intercollegiate athletics, and parking structures at the main campus in Tempe. ASU had also inflated student enrollments at certain campuses by manipulating its accounting of students attending other campuses and online programs.

Arizona prides itself in promoting school choice for public K-12 education and should now extend this courtesy for public university education by breaking-up the ASU Empire. My proposal offers more choices, greater access, and healthy competition among Arizona's public universities using a traditional model that already works in many other states. Arizonans cannot afford any more "grand experiments" or "gimmicks" and they expect greater accountability to keep faith in their state government and university system.