Stanford University vs the State of Arizona. A contrast in priorities.


I accompanied Mark to his 1980 undergrad class reunion at Stanford this past weekend. It was my first visit to the campus and had me wishing I could commandeer a DeLorean to get me back to 1980s Donna Gratehouse (I’m still stuck on that decade lately) and get my teenage shit together so that I could be celebrating my 1990 graduation from that institution as well.

Mark and I ran into a former classmate of his, an Arizona native now living in Seattle, who said that outgoing Stanford President John L. Hennessy had visited Washington to raise funds for Stanford’s endowment and that Hennessy’s stated goal was in the billions. That’s with billions with a B. This is money going to one (admittedly excellent) college in California.

This is not wishful thinking on Hennessy’s part. Get a load of the cash Stanford has on hand:

Stanford endowment

And get a load of Stanford’s annual budget:

In 2015-16, Stanford is a $5.5 billion enterprise. This figure represents the university’s consolidated budget for operations, a compilation of all annual operating and restricted budgets that support teaching, scholarship and research, including the budgets of all schools and administrative areas and the SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory.

$5.5 billion a year to operate one university in California with a little over 7000 undergraduates and somewhat under 10,000 graduate students. Roughly 18,000 students. And again, a really great university! I don’t begrudge them one cent of it. But let’s contrast this with the entire state budget of Arizona (emphasis mine):

With little fanfare, Gov. Doug Ducey formally signed on Thursday the $9.1 billion budget for fiscal 2016 he expects will put the state on a three-year path to financial balance without raising taxes.

The governor has trumpeted the budget as a “fiscally responsible” plan that forces the state to live within its means. His opponents call it unnecessarily austere.

I agree with Gov. Ducey’s opponents, since Arizona’s whole budget (in non-inflation adjusted dollars) was $10.6 billion in 2008 and is now $9.1 billion for a population of roughly 6.7 million people. Arizona’s education investment per K-12 pupil, unsurprisingly, ranks at the bottom of the nation.

Stanford (2015): $305,600 per student.

Arizona: (2013) $7,208 per K-12 pupil.

Arizona: (2015 average) $4,400 per college pupil (slated to go down to the even less impressive sum of $3,600 next year).

You can argue with me that this is not a fair comparison because of the high tuition at Stanford, but I would counter with their own statistics about their income, of which a mere 16% comes from the students. Basically, one college in California is single-handedly kicking the entire state of Arizona’s ass, education-wise. Shame on us.


  1. Donna, you are correct, it isn’t fair to compare Stanford to much of anything. You cherry picked a single institution that enjoys exceptional success, even among other educational institutions, and chose to compare it to Arizona. You are comparing apples to oranges. It sounds bad when you compare them but it is an illegitimate comparison.

    Stanford has one purpose: Education. It also has thousands of very successful Alumni who want to give money to their Alma Mater, which can then amass those funds over a long period of time to use or not use as they please. You don’t have $5-$6 Billion in the bank without allowing endowments to sit there and accumulate.

    Arizona has an endless number of purposes. It obtains it’s money by extorting it from the people through taxation. People are NOT happy giving up their money to the State and don’t want to give any more than they are forced to give. Arizona cannot allow funds to just sit there and accumulate. If there is money in the bank, it is spent.

    Your comparison is no more valid than comparing Arizona to a Corporation, or a very successful Fraternal Order like the Masons. Apples to Oranges.

    • I too don’t like the idea of comparing a state’s efforts in higher education to any single institution, especially a private one, but I bet that if you compare Arizona to Texas, Washington, California, Oregon or for that matter almost any other state you’ll find Arizona woefully inadequate. Republicans have run Arizona for almost half a century and they have been incredibly successful in weakening education at every level.

      • Bill, you are at least using the correct comparisons when you compare Arizona to other states. But what criteria do you use when making that comparison? I am always skeptical when surveys or studies come out until I know who sponsored them. So many of these negative reports cited that show Arizona at the bottom originate with educators who have a vested interest in the outcome. The three most cited reasons for Arizona’s failure are (1) Low per pupil spending, (2) low teachers pay, and (3) high drop out rates. Let’s look at these issues.

        Low per pupil spending is not a good indicator as to student success in school. Some places with the highest per pupil spending produce the worst student performance (Washington, D.C. & Detroit) and, conversely, some places with low per pupil spending produce students with high college graduation rates (North & South Dakota). I think we do need to spend more, but that is no guarantee of success.

        We do have low teachers pay and it needs to improve. BUT we also need to nsure our teachers are held to some sort of standards instead of just accepting anyone with a teachers certificate. It has been demonstrated over and over that in universities across the nation, the Colleges of Education draw thier students from the bottom third of the student bodies. This means they are not getting the best and the brightest. But that is okay if we make certain the teachers are proficient in their subject matter.

        We do have high drop out rates, but our demographics push us in that direction. We have a large number of hispanics. Traditionally, education is not a high priority, working is. Our drop outs consists of an inordinately large number of hispanics who just don’t see the value of sitting in a classroom when they can be out working. I am happy to see that is slowly changing, but in the meantime we have have a higher than average dropout rate.

        We actually are doing very well in some arenas. For instance, graduates of ASU’s Schools of Engineering and Business are eagerly sought after all around the country. Our Community College system is top notch and many states have modeled their systems after ours. Our Charter School system is an excellent system (despite what the people on this blog that absolutely HATE it will tell you) that is enjoying remarkable success.

        We do need to make some improvements in our education system, and it does need more funding. The biggest problem with our system (in the eyes of this blog) is it is run by Republicans. If everyting was identical, but it was run by Democrats, everything would be A-Okay. It is just partisan politics…

    • I knew I could count on you to mansplain the difference between a college and a state to me, Steve, but my point was to do a broad illustration of how little importance this state puts on educating its K-12 and college students, despite the bluster of the GOP majority of how “education-focused” they are.

  2. My fear is smoke and mirrors financials, with a bunch of barriers to cross to get the money (multiple voter approvals, etc.). I know the Governor did not call any special session because they did not have the votes on any plan yet. When a message is out there that Ducey is the public schools’ best ally in this effort, it’s a scary thought. It is absolutely true that a number of legislators have the Pearce attitude, if we never have to fund any public schools, that is fine with them. “If they think education is costly, we see what the cost of ignorance is!”

Comments are closed.