By Djamila Grossman
PHOENIX – The Arizona Supreme Court agreed Tuesday to consider the legality of a case in which former University of Arizona students sued the Arizona Board of Regents for increasing tuition by nearly 40 percent in 2003.
In November, an appellate court decided the students are generally entitled to sue the board of regents over the decision to raise tuition. It did not say whether tuition was raised too much.
The regents challenged that outcome and appealed to the Supreme Court, which will decide whether the regents can be sued over tuition hikes.
Both plaintiffs and defendants applaud the step, saying they hope the court will rule in their favor.
â€œNow it looks like itâ€™s finally going to get decided,â€ said John Kromko, a former UA student and state legislator, who was among those who initiated the suit. â€œI think this is a vital state matter that really needs to be decided by the Supreme Court.â€
Kromko and three other former students claim the regents violated the Arizona Constitution, which states that the â€œuniversity and all other state educational institutions shall be as nearly free as possible.â€
When tuition was raised by 39.1 percent in the 2003-04 school year, the money was not used just to improve education directly, Kromko said, but also for scholarships, research and building construction.
In his experience tuition increases seldom have direct effects on higher standards in classroom equipment or better-qualified teachers, Kromko said.
â€œItâ€™s right to give scholarships but itâ€™s not right for university students to pay for those,â€ he said. â€œThe regents and the universities have not taken any steps to ensure that tuition is as low as possible.â€
But the regents say they are the ones to decide what tuition money can be used for. Part of that capacity is to ensure that enough financial aid is available to students who canâ€™t afford higher tuition rates, said Nancy Tribbensee, the general council for the Arizona University System and a staff member of the Arizona Board of Regents.
â€œWeâ€™re pleased that the Supreme Court has accepted review of Kromko,â€ she said â€œThis gives them the opportunity to reaffirm the regentsâ€™ constitutional authority to set tuition rates.â€
If the Supreme Court decides it is lawful to sue the regents, the initial case has to be reconsidered by the trial court.