I think the overall burden of student debt is the biggest problem. A lot of us are living off of student loans. I think it will be most impactful for undergraduate students. They're the ones that are going to have to deal with it for the longest period of time. —Matt Lyman
SALT LAKE CITY — University of Utah trustees approved up to a 5.8 percent increase in tuition rates this week for the 2014-15 academic year.
Resident freshmen and sophomores enrolled full time — 15 credits — at the U. currently pay $3,225 per semester in tuition. The increase will cost the same group of students up to an additional $374 per year.
The university joins BYU, which announced a 3.1 percent tuition increase last October. Officials at Dixie State University also said a tuition increase of up to 3 percent was likely, though exactly how much won't be determined until after the the state legislative session ends Thursday.
Cathy Anderson, associate vice president for budget and planning, said the tuition increase will help provide services to students, competitive salaries for faculty and funds for utilities.
Matt Lyman, a public health student at the University of Utah, said he understands the reasons behind the increase, but that it will contribute to a long-term financial burden for students.
"I think the overall burden of student debt is the biggest problem," he said. "A lot of us are living off of student loans. I think it will be most impactful for undergraduate students. They're the ones that are going to have to deal with it for the longest period of time."
Anderson says U. officials were aware of students' needs when the tuition increase was approved.
"We're very cognizant of our students, and we're trying to keep education at the university as affordable as possible," she said. "The success of our students is our top priority."
Anderson said 31 percent of the funds will help provide additional student support services through academic advising and peer mentors. About 25 percent of the increase will be used alongside state funds to provide salary raises and benefits for faculty members at the U. Another 29 percent will be used in faculty retention.
"There's pretty stiff competition with other research institutions," Anderson said. "If we can't compensate faculty appropriately, they have many other choices of where they can go. It's important for the students and the quality of our institution to maintain some of our higher-level faculty."
Lyman agrees that faculty compensation contributes to the success of the university.
"It's understandable," he said. "What kind of motivation do we have to bring in quality educators if we're not willing to pay them well?"
The remaining 15 percent will be spent on utilities and facilities maintenance.
Anderson said the U. is working with individual and corporate sponsors to offset next year's higher tuition costs by providing additional scholarships for students.
"We want to keep the university's tuition affordable, so we work really hard to keep the expenses down," she said.
Even with the tuition increase, the U. still has the lowest tuition of the schools in its Pac-12 conference, which includes notable institutions like Stanford, USC, UCLA and the University of California at Berkeley, Anderson said.
Though appropriations to the U. from the Utah System of Higher Education have dropped by 25 percent since 1985, Anderson said the university remains grateful for "generous" state support.
Last year, the state provided more than $15 million in ongoing funds, as well as almost $3 million in one-time appropriations, to various institutions at the U.