The shutdown for the COVID-19 pandemic has been squeezing government and public institutions as well as private businesses and employees, and the effects are being seen more as time passes. Much public debate is ongoing about when schools can reopen, and some colleges already have announced dates for the fall semester. Meanwhile, colleges have been finishing the spring semester and some people are commenting about whether remote learning should be a bigger part of the offerings in higher education.
Actually, this discussion has been occurring for a while. Many colleges are impressive places with block after block of fine buildings, decades or centuries of tradition and major sports programs that are key parts of their public image. They also do research that is very important, but questions have been asked about whether undergraduate students should be paying for that as tuition has skyrocketed in recent years.
Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich has made high college tuition a major focus. His basis comes from none other than the Arizona Constitution, which says college tuition must be “as nearly free as possible.” The second-term Republican brings his perspective of coming from an immigrant family that spoke a language other than English at home. He worked his way through college and law school and began a legal career without long-term debt. College always has been a burden for many families, one that proved to be worthwhile. Now, however, the ability to borrow large sums of money has changed things: It has given the colleges more funding and at the same time made life more difficult long-term for students.
Seeing that tuition at Arizona’s universities has increased by more than 300% since 2003, Brnovich sued the Board of Regents in 2017. He claims that the availability of student loans and the high cost of tuition in other states have been much bigger factors in the pricing than the actual cost of instruction. The board has been winning the case on procedural grounds, but the Arizona Supreme Court is hearing Brnovich’s appeal.
Many Americans today see colleges as elite institutions that are not very responsive to the needs of average citizens. The pandemic has caused some re-examination of how colleges do their job, and Mark Brnovich is seeking a major reform as well to benefit his constituents.