Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

August 6, 2009


Host: Ted Simons

A Lower-Cost University Education


  • The Arizona Board of Regents has challenged university presidents to come up with ways to make higher education more affordable. Arizona State University President Michael Crow, University of Arizona President Robert Shelton, and Northern Arizona University President John Haeger share their ideas for lower cost alternatives to the traditional 4-year university degree.
Guests:
  • Michael Crow - Arizona State University President
  • Robert Shelton - University of Arizona President
  • John Haegar - Northern Arizona University President
Category: Education

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
Tonight on "Horizon," the presidents of A.S.U., N.A.U., and the U of A tell us what they told the board of regents earlier today about making college more affordable. That's coming up next on "Horizon." Good evening, and welcome to "Horizon." I'm Ted Simons. The Arizona board of regents met today and will meet again tomorrow, here on the Tempe campus of Arizona State University. Among the items on its agenda, making higher education more affordable. In June the board president Ernest Calderon challenged University presidents to find ways to cut the cost of a four-year bachelor degree for select majors by working with community colleges. He suggested this be done using a three-plus-one plan where a student pays three years of community college tuition and one year of tuition at a state University. Calderón had this to say about the plan last month on "Horizon."

Ernest Calderon:
What I'm suggesting is that we make it a customer centric plan. We say universities; yes this is going to affect your revenue stream. But you need to know, Arizonans are less concerned with your revenue stream than they are concerned about getting accessable, affordable education.

Ted Simons:
Are the Universities going to be willing to go along with something like this?

Ernest Calderon:
I want to say this is diplomatically as I can. I'm very proud of the University system, I'm very proud of the people who have made it a success. But this is a policy issue for the board of regents. And it's time for the board of regents, and I think you've seen this in the last month or two, to step up and direct the universities to do some things -- to make them more accessible. Michael crow has already coming up with new innovations. He'll take this idea, and he'll turn night something that is different, but it might be better.

Ted Simons:
Here to share their proposals for lower cost baccalaureate decks are Arizona state University president Michael Crow, Northern Arizona University president John Haeger, and University of Arizona president Robert Shelton. Good to have you all on "Horizon." Let's start, before we get into the particulars of each individual idea from the separate schools, the importance of an educated work force. Dr. Crow, the idea that we're graduating a certain number of folks with bachelors' degrees, why don't we graduate more?

Michael Crow:
We have is a pipeline issue in Arizona. We haven't yet gotten fully around the notion that education is the key to our future. Economic competitiveness, if you look the present recession, you've got college graduates faring better in the recession than those that haven't graduated from high school. We need to focus on enhancing our pipeline, pushing everyone up.

Ted Simons:
Is that how you see it as well? There has to be why a reason Arizona seems to lag in bachelor's degrees.

Robert Shelton:
There are many reasons. The pipeline is a critical reason. Once they come to the universities, we have to do a better job of getting them graduated in four, five, six years. We have a large drop-out at all three institutions. So at every stage, that drop-out can be from a number of factors. It could be financial, it could be course availability, it could be advising. And we have to address each one of these as we are, and the numbers are improving, but we have a long way to go.

Ted Simons:
Why aren't we doing better?

John Haeger:
A couple of reasons. Maybe the major one I think in Arizona is not enough of our students in high school, and then when they go to the community college, actually aspire to go on for baccalaureate degrees. We have to ask ourselves the question, why not? So we have a real education that has to go on with Arizona families, and the students currently in the schools.

Ted Simons:
That's a good question. Why do you think that exists? Is there a perception that education just isn't something that Arizona has been noted for, valued as much as it should?

Michael Crow:
I don't think it's a perception, it's mostly related to the youthfulness of Arizona and the way that our social and educational infrastructure have evolved. We have not evolved to have five, 10, 15, 20, 25 different kinds of options to technical training to undergraduate training, so what we lack in Arizona are different kinds of places where different types of learners can plug in. And we need more diversification in our platforms.

Ted Simons:
The importance of an educated work force to the future of Arizona.

Robert Shelton:
It cannot be overstated. I want to add to what Michael just said. In addition, we're very young state and we have an awful lot of first generation college goers. They come from families that don't have that college experience. So somehow we have to convey to them not just when they're in high school, but when they're 10 years old, instead of 10th grade, how they have to prepare themselves for a college degree. This state really has a tremendous opportunity in that regard, because you have this tremendous pool of talent, we just have to convince them and get them into a college.

Ted Simons:
How do you convince them? How do you get them into college?

John Haeger:
Two things -- the very figures that we continually look at about the relationships between your level of education, your personal income, and the economic development of the nation. We've got to get that message down to parents and to students in the schools. One thing I would add, it really isn't just the -- an issue in Arizona. This has become a national issue. The president of the United States has made it very clear for this nation to be economically competitive, we have to everywhere increase the number of baccalaureate degrees.

Ted Simons:
Let's talk about plans to do just that. We'll go to each school and we'll start with Arizona state University and the concept of a group of undergraduate colleges. Explain that idea and how that will help get more Arizonans a bachelor's degree.

Michael Crow:
We've got two parts to that plan. The first is to work heavily with the community colleges and find ways to begin offering four-year degrees through A.S.U. with the community colleges as our partner. So we're working on that right now as we speak. In addition to that, the notion we need these different places for points of access, different price points, different ways of learning, the colleges at A.S.U. concept is an idea still being developed which is intended to find students interested in a handful of subjects, moving very quickly, in a highly focused way in a differentiated learning environment, a place for them to go. That's what we think is missing, is insufficient places. Insufficient points of contact.

Ted Simons:
How many places right now, just in general, would the University be look at? Where would they be and how big would they be? How many students would they hold?

Michael Crow:
We're looking at a handful of options. We're looking at a handful of partners. We're talking to five or six different places. These are models where we have to have investment from others to help make these work. They would start out in the range of 1,500-3,000 students each. The thing that as you hear these numbers, people have to remember, the rate at which Arizona is continuing to grow, including through this recession. We're now larger than Massachusetts, larger than Missouri, larger than Wisconsin in terms of population. And we end up being the size of Michigan, Illinois, Pennsylvania, or New Jersey. So we've got to build for the future the public University sector, while the private University sector continues to evolve.

Ted Simons:
The accelerated three-year path. Again, how important a piece is that to this particular solution or idea, and if it's a good one, do you see more folks on accelerated three-year paths? Could that be the norm?

Michael Crow:
I don't know about the norm. It can work very well for certain programs. Other programs it wouldn't work well for at all. So in certain programs, we think we can provide high-speed, high-quality programs. In other areas, we think we can continue to provide moderate speed, high-quality programs, so that's what we're looking for, is the right learner in the right program.

Ted Simons:
I note today there was news out regarding the pathways program, where a community college student right now could make sure tuition would be capped at 5% increase throughout his collegiate career?

Michael Crow:
We're saying the tuition rate increase for an incoming transfer substitute from -- student from the community colleges, we'll consider they joined the University in their first year out of high school and we'll treat them like that cohort group in terms of price.

Ted Simons:
And cost for this. Is there money from the Universities, from community colleges, can we do this? Can we afford to do this?

Michael Crow:
It's really the question, can we afford not to. But the question for us is, can we be innovative enough to help lower the per student cost for the state? We think we can be. Can we be innovative enough to give various tuition options, we think we can. The state will ultimately have to decide whether or not they're actually going to make investments to support the growth that they so willingly encourage. Because as more people move here and as families begin to continue to expand, we have to have a place for them to go to college.

Ted Simons:
N.A.U.'s idea, I know I read it; a three-plus-one is involved in your plan. Your idea?

John Haeger:
Actually, we're going to take a multi-pronged approach. Northern Arizona University, in addition to the campus in Flagstaff, now has over 6,000 students off campus and 30 sites around the state. We think we have to double those numbers. So how do we do that? One thing is to be sure we tailor the programs in those areas to what the needs of those areas are. So we have a branch campus in Yuma, those programs have to be targeted to the Yuma population to attract them into the University. Another program that we're working on, which I personally believe is the key, is that our numbers haven't increased rapidly enough because students first enter the community college, then after two years or whatever number of hours, they decide to go on to the University. But they may not have taken the right courses. And so you run into the transfer problem. What we're doing now in -- with Coconino community college and Yavapai college, we're specifically admitting a student at the same time to N.A.U. as the community college. We immediately get advisors to them so they take absolutely the courses they need to move into a degree program at N.A.U.

Ted Simons:
But they will eventually need to move into the degree program at N.A.U. Do they stay home to do that, or do they have to get up to Flagstaff?

John Haeger:
They can stay home to do it. They can do it as combination of on site, on the web. If you more rigidly structure curriculum, you can effectively allow these students to move much more easily between the two sectors. In a sense what we're trying to do is to mute the difference between the community college and the University and make it absolutely transparent to the student. How they get to their end goal.

Ted Simons:
The idea of having more of these branch campuses, are we talking about using existing infrastructure? Are we talking more bricks and mortar and if we are, where is the money going to come from?

John Haeger:
There isn't money for bricks and mortar. We're talking about partnerships with community colleges like we have in Yuma where there is a physical infrastructure already there. We're working with Yavapai college, Prescott valley just recently built a building and we are going to the two institutions are going to essentially merge in that facility to offer four-year degrees. So we reduce costs, it becomes more affordable.

Ted Simons:
U of A, ideas for the U of A's vantage point on making a college education more accessible and more affordable.

Robert Shelton:
The key for the University of Arizona in this regard is to build upon a very successful relationship we have with the community college and do that with other community colleges. That avoids a lot of start-up costs, the bricks and mortar comment you just highlighted. So what we've done at Pima, for a number of years, is have joint admissions, simultaneous admissions. We have advisors on each campus, so you don't eliminate completely, but you resolve to a great extent the transfer of credits problem. And so now what we're doing is designing in a number of areas courses that are of interest to the people at those locations. You have to serve the people with the courses they're interested in. Whether it's a high-tech course, a teacher prep, a course in commerce, whatever it is. So partnering with the community colleges, designing class these are flexible and that are appealing to the people in those areas, that's the way the University of Arizona hopes and plans to increase our graduation numbers by up to 10,000 people by the time we get to 2020, which is the target for the board of regents.

Ted Simons:
And again, are we talking about a four-year degree for someone who lives in Douglas, or Bisbee, somewhere in that area, without ever having to go to the Tucson main campus?

Robert Shelton:
That's exactly right. What we want to do is design this, what we will do is design this so you don't have to come to the main campus in Tucson to get that four her year degree. It may not take four years. We have students now that come in with a lot of advanced placement. They can go through in three. We have some students that change their major, they take five. So what we have to do is design this in a way that gives that flexibility, provides online, provides courses at the community college. With respect to costs, the three-plus-one model that President Calderón introduced is very interesting. We have a two-plus-two model that has two years at the community college, two years at this local environment with reduced tuition at the University of Arizona because it's a restricted set of degrees, and the sum total of tuition is very comparable, maybe even less than the three-plus-one model.

Ted Simons:
I know that the land grant status with the U of A presents challenges, benefits as well? First, explain what that is.

Robert Shelton:
Well, land grant came about in the 1860s, Abraham Lincoln signed it and it allowed states if they set aside money for University, to get land for free from the federal government. The obligation now means that we are supposed to make offerings throughout the state as app land grant institution, and work on issues, whether they're education, research, application, that are important to the people of the state of Arizona. Now, in this case it gives us a tremendous advantage because we already have an infrastructure physical presence in literally every county in the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
OK. We've heard three separate ideas here. A lot of similarities, some differences here. But critics will say the perception -- we're talking about a lower cost degree. And the low-cost degree, the perception might be all low quality degree. How do you get rid of that idea?

Michael Crow:
Some people have ideas that -- like that need to be better informed, because like anything, education evolves also, there are new ways to learn, new ways to measure success, new ways to measure that a student has actually achieved the level of learning that's required to have a complex concept that in their mind understood. We're going to apply everything that people have been working on in terms of educational innovation, top drive new things forward. If we retreat on quality, you might as well shut us down, there's no reason for us to be here. Just put your money in the mail and order the degree from somebody that will send it to you. That's not what we're interested in doing. We're interested in high-quality degrees, in different learning modalities, so you can choose which one fits you or your family best. And we'll guarantee that the quality of that degree will be among the best in the world for the subject that you are learning.

Ted Simons:
How can you guarantee that to the student in Prescott, or Gila county, or Yuma, whatever, how can you guarantee that telling them, you'll never have to go to the main campus in Flagstaff, but you will get as good an education as those that live on campus?

John Haeger:
What we have to look at is the -- those degrees can be offered in a combination of ways. On-site classes, web classes, but the key thing that will guarantee quality is remember, these degrees and their structures are controlled by the faculties of the three institutions. And faculty will be very interested in the quality equation that enters into any new degree structure.

Ted Simons:
Can you make that -- can you tell a kid, again, in Douglas, for example, you're going to be as educated as a kid who lives on campus in Tucson?

Robert Shelton:
Absolutely. Picking up on my colleagues' comments, the University of Arizona will absolutely never, ever compromise on quality. The faculty wouldn't allow it. The administration wouldn't allow it. The staff wouldn't allow it. In fact, our alumni wouldn't allow it, because their degrees need to appreciate in value. The way you do that is structure the degrees -- you don't offer a degree that is laboratory intensive if you don't have laboratories. So you structure the degree accordingly and you ensure that your very best instructors get engaged in that, and the courses are certified by your faculty.

Ted Simons:
The governor was quoted as saying having almost all of our undergraduates in research level universities is just too expensive. Comment on that, if you would.

Michael Crow:
I think all three of us agree with that. So it's a part of growing up. So the state has had three platforms, the three Universities for over 100 years. We've been evolving, but we need to evolve more quickly and within our frameworks now, we need alternative, less expensive approaches. That doesn't mean that we can give up one iota of the gains that have been made on those parts of the three institutions that are research grade, because then we're giving up the seed corn for the future. But it does mean we need a broader spectrum. The way to look at this is like a spectrum of learning platforms. Ours isn't broad enough.

Ted Simons:
To those who say, our universities are too focused on research and all those elements as opposed to teaching kids what they need to learn to earn a degree and make their way in life. Your response?

John Haeger:
My response has always been the same to that comment. That is essentially a University is about teaching, but it's also about research and interrelationship between those two things. I don't think you can have an institution that does not have faculty that does some level of research as well as teach, as well as help communities with economic development. It's all part of the package.

Ted Simons:
How would you respond to that?

Robert Shelton:
I would go back to your comment about a land grant institution. When the University of Arizona was created, what did we do? We had people work OK issues of interest to the state. Hydrology, agriculture, mining. And those students came and they certainly had classroom learning, but they also had hands-on learning, whether they were learning with a geologist out in the field, or whether they why in agriculture. Research now is the same thing. Students come, they get classroom learning, but they also have that hands-on. We call it internships. We give it a fancy name. But right now the students come, and they do these internships, so they are better prepared not only for the work force, for their careers, but also to serve the state of Arizona. Probably two-thirds of all of our undergraduates get these personal one-on-one research internships when they're undergraduates. It's because the faculty attract over 500 million dollars a year from the federal government primarily to put into these opportunities.

Ted Simons:
Very quickly, last question here, we'll go around. Again, we're running short on time, but we've had a great discussion so far. There are those that say Arizona needs separate universities, separate and apart from the University system to promote competition, to promote accountability, to help you guys do what you do even better. How would you respond?

Michael Crow:
Absolutely. I'm always hopeful that private forces will amalgamate their resources and advance colleges and universities in Arizona, it will only help us. There's no way no matter with all the plans that we've put on the table, that we can meet all the demands for Arizona. We can't. We're the public University sector. We need private colleges and universities to advance.

Ted Simons:
But are private colleges and universities being overshadowed to the point where they can't grow by the public University system?

John Haeger:
I don't believe so. I think it's a matter of private universities beginning to look at the opportunities that Arizona offers. Our higher education system is under built. I think there will be a day where private universities locate here.

Ted Simons:
What do you think?

Robert Shelton:
The point I would make is that in competition, we are already in competition at the national level. All of us compete that way for our faculty, for our scholars, and for many of our students. When they come here, they build, whether they are the students or the faculty, they build the economy of the state of Arizona. So the competition is there. I don't disagree with my colleagues. But we already have significant competition to attract the greatest human talent to the state of Arizona.

Ted Simons:
All right. We'll stop it there. Again, great discussion. Thank you so much for joining us on "Horizon."

John Haeger:
Thank you.

Michael Crow:
Thank you.

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