In our opinion: Fund growth in higher education

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 18 2014 12:00 a.m. MST

Utah Valley University student walk outside the Sorenson Center on campus in Orem Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

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Utah lawmakers have a rare opportunity this year to provide some of the state’s fastest growing institutions of higher learning with the money they need to catch up with the demands of what, in some cases, is an overwhelming rate of growth.

It’s a rare opportunity because the presidents of all universities and colleges in the state have agreed to a formula that would provide this equity — even though the University of Utah, Snow College, Utah State and Southern Utah University would receive none of the roughly $69 million the Utah System of Higher Education is asking for in order to put all schools on an equal level with funding at about $4,800 for each full-time student.

The agreement gives lawmakers a painless way to help fund growth at the state institutions whose mission includes accepting virtually anyone who enrolls. As Utah’s population continues to increase, so does the pressure to provide a higher education to the burgeoning ranks of high school graduates, as well as the many non-traditional, older students anxious to earn a degree or certificate.

Utah’s education and political leaders have agreed to a goal of having 66 percent of all Utah adults in possession of a college degree or certificate by 2020. The goal is ambitious, but it would be much harder to achieve if all schools were not given the resources to keep up with growth.

In recent years, Weber State, Dixie State, Utah Valley and Utah State’s regional campuses are universities that have been woefully underfunded in relation to their growth. The same can be said for Salt Lake Community College. As an example of this, the portion of UVU’s revenue from tax funds fell from 54 percent in the 2008-09 year to 41 percent in the current year, all while enrollment continued to grow. UVU currently enrolls 30,568 students and projects to have 43,310 by 2020. It can’t continue to provide a low-cost education, fulfilling the dual role of a two-year and four-year institution for various programs, and accepting all who apply, without greater funding.

The same can be said for the other three institutions that have been short-changed because of a lagging economy and other factors.

If lawmakers approve the full $69 million in equity funding and use the formula the institutions have agreed upon, UVU would get $29.4 million, SLCC would get $21.7 million, USU’s regional campuses would get $7.8 million, WSU would get $6.2 million and Dixie would get $4.5 million. This appropriation would establish a floor of $4,800 per student that would continue in future years, helping the fastest-growing institutions keep up with growth.

The Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee recently approved the entire funding request, which now goes to the Executive Appropriations Committee. The final decision on whether the money is approved will depend to a large extent on the estimate of available state revenues due later this month.

Given the general feeling that Utah’s economy is growing, we urge lawmakers approve the $69 million request. It would be a shame to squander the opportunity to help these schools meet their obligations.

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