Graduate Students

At Nacubo Meeting, Arizona State Official Describes 'No Frills' College Education

June 28, 2009

Boston — Students in Arizona may have a cheaper option to get a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University if a proposal to create a “no frills” program is approved by the state, the university’s chief financial officer told an audience at the National Association of College and University Business Officers’ meeting here today.

Morgan R. Olsen, executive vice president and chief financial officer of Arizona State, spoke at a session about “the new reality” for colleges in the wake of the financial crisis, and what kind of changes might occur because of tighter resources. Mr. Olsen said his university was considering operating more than one business model, providing different student experiences at different prices.

Under the “no frills” model, students would attend focused classes at a different location than the university’s current campuses. The programs offered would be in high-demand areas such as business and education, and the teacher-student ratio would be higher, Mr. Olsen said. (A similar proposal was put forward in Pennsylvania this year.)

The program is envisioned as a middle ground between the state’s research universities and its community colleges. Students would receive Arizona State degrees, but they would not have the student-life or research opportunities available to students on the main campus. Tuition would be lower than the cost of attending one of the existing campuses, probably not exceeding the amount of a full Pell Grant, Mr. Olsen said.

The presidents of all three of Arizona’s public universities presented the proposal to the state’s Board of Regents this month as a way of increasing the number of bachelor’s degrees granted in the state, according to an Associated Press report. If approved, Arizona could have one no-frills location in place by the fall of 2010, with more to follow.

The message today at the Nacubo meeting was that colleges cannot continue operating in the way they did before the recession. When asked by the moderator, Kai Ryssdal of public radio’s Marketplace, what the financial future looked like for universities, both Mr. Olsen and another panelist, Yoke San L. Reynolds, vice president and chief financial officer of the University of Virginia, predicted it would get worse before it got better.

“The next two years, at least, have great potential to be even more challenging than now,” Mr. Olsen said. —Kathryn Masterson