The State in Arizona State

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Despite the fact that many now see law school itself as a mostly wasteful endeavor, Arizona is working on a new plan that will likely make the law school at Arizona State University dramatically more expensive. It costs so much money for the state to run the school. Why not just privatize it?

According to a piece by Anne Ryman The Arizona Republic:

Arizona’s state universities are on a fast track to making some of their professional schools financially self-sufficient, an unprecedented shift that would mean higher tuition to cover the loss of state funds for operations.

Arizona State University’s Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law is the first school slated to convert to the new model, a kind of privatization.

Well it’s not “a kind of privatization”; it is privatization. The only difference is that the law school would remain a part of ASU, a technically public college.

Under the new plan, according to the article, the law school would receive no help from the state but, rather,

The law school would pay for its operations, including salaries, through tuition and donations made through the ASU Foundation. ASU would cover any construction, through a public-private partnership, with the plan being to build a new law school in downtown Phoenix.

Over five years, the school would gradually reduce its reliance on state funding. To make up the difference, each year’s entering class would become slightly larger, growing from fewer than 200 students to about 250 over five or six years.

Tuition, now $21,598 in-state, would increase 10 percent a year until 2016. After that, who knows? The sky is the limit!

Currently ASU Law School gets 34 percent of its operating budget from the state of Arizona.

This privatization might not be such a great idea. Leaving aside the obvious fact that higher tuition just causes more financial strain on students and graduates, increasing the size of the school in order to meet budgeting needs will necessarily make O’Connor less selective. Furthermore, one of the chief attractions of the law school is its low cost. What’s the incentive of going to a school (it currently ranks 38th among American law schools) way out in Tempe, Arizona if it’s ruinously expensive?

But ASU is not the first public college to try this little dance. The law school at the University of Michigan and the law and business schools at the University of Virginia now receive no money from the state. In September UCLA proposed privatizing its business school.

The Territory of Arizona created ASU in 1885 as the Tempe Normal School. The purpose of the school was to train Arizonians at low cost to work in the territory’s public schools. My, how far it’s come. [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer