/ Modified may 23, 2016 10:41 a.m.

The University of Arizona Today and Tomorrow

Metro Week looks at how one of the region's economic powerhouses is faring.

The UA sits at the heart of Tucson, and not just geographically. It's biggest employer in southern Arizona, and a powerhouse of the regional economy. Its sports teams bring people across the community together. Researchers and academics educate our young while producing cutting-edge work, from planetary exploration to our earth’s changing climate, and everything in between. As higher education evolves, how is the UA faring?

Another Academic Year Over, Another Budget Year to Come

Around 6,000 students graduated from the UA last week, according to university estimates. Finals and college graduation ceremonies were held as Gov. Doug Ducey signed a state budget last Wednesday. After cutting $99 million from the Arizona's three public universities last year, this year's budget includes $32 million in additional funding for higher education and $200 million in deferred payments.

"Anytime we can get an uptick in budget, we're very happy," said UA Provost Andrew Comrie. Despite losing significant state support over the past eight years, Comrie said overall, the UA's budget is in good shape.

Also helpful will be the deferred payment. Of the total $200 milliion, the UA will receive $78.9 million.

"About seven or eight years ago, in the height of the recession, the state deferred a payment," said Comrie. "And we've been essentially a quarter behind ever since. And now that payment is being caught up."

"That improves the university's cash position, we've always known the money would be there, now it's really there."

Funding Priorities

Comrie said staff salaries, fundraising and infrastructure top the university's list of priorities for the coming year.

Last week, his office announced the first university-wide pay raises in three years.

"The details are still to be determined," he said. "But we know enough about the budget now that we can commit to that. "

Most faculty, staff and graduate students will receive a modest pay increase in September, additional pay increases will be based on merit. Comrie said it's an important move to remain competitive nationally and to keep the UA's "best and brightest."

He also said additional investment is needed in fundraising. "We are behind our peers there," he said, noting he believes there are many people that want to invest in the UA.

Visitors will likely see work around campus in the coming year.

"We have a lot infrastructure needs, not just delayed maintenance but other kinds of essential infrastructure, including IT."

The DeVry Effect

UA President Ann Weaver Hart weathered criticism last semester following her decision to take a seat on the board of the DeVry Education Group, a for-profit company that runs private colleges and universities around the U.S. and abroad, including Carrington College in Tucson.

The move prompted 22 state lawmakers to call for her resignation from the UA. Lynn Nadel, chair of the faculty senate, called the issue a distraction.

Comrie's take?

"Within the university, it's really not affecting business at all," he said. "Presidents, other members of this university and certainly members of other universities will often serve on boards."

Hart declined to be interviewed for this show.

On the program:

  • Our full interview with UA Provost Andrew Comrie. We also discuss diversity on campus, the impact of last year's layoffs, and Dr. Peter Rhee's recent announcement that he'll leave the UA and his position as trauma chief at Banner-UMC.

  • The journalists roundtable featuring Carol Ann Alaimo of the Arizona Daily Star, Dylan Smith of the Tucson Sentinel and Sara Hammond of AZPM.

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