Regents mulling 4 percent statewide tuition increase

Published: Monday, March 24 2014 5:15 p.m. MDT

The Utah System of Higher Education is recommending a 4 percent tuition increase for Utah's colleges and universities. If approved, the average tuition increase in the state will be the lowest in more than 10 years. (Jordan Allred, Deseret News) The Utah System of Higher Education is recommending a 4 percent tuition increase for Utah's colleges and universities. If approved, the average tuition increase in the state will be the lowest in more than 10 years. (Jordan Allred, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah System of Higher Education is recommending a statewide tuition increase of 4 percent for the 2014-15 academic year, according to a memorandum issued last week by Commissioner David Buhler.

The Board of Regents is expected to consider the increase during its meeting Friday in St. George, as well as school-specific increases for the University of Utah, Utah State University and Snow College.

If approved, the proposed tuition increases would represent the smallest average percentage hike for tuition in more than a decade.

"We are always very concerned about the cost to students, and no one likes to see tuition go up at all," Buhler said. "But we do need to also make sure we’re providing a quality educational experience for them, and higher education continues to be an amazing investment that people can make in themselves and their future."

Kasey Van Dyke, a Weber State University student studying chemistry, said she appreciates that tuition in Utah is comparatively lower than other states. But she added that each time tuition increases, it makes it harder for students to attend classes and complete their degrees.

"It seems like they're hijacking our time and our money," Van Dyke said.

Resident undergraduate tuition at the University of Utah is expected to jump $378 to $6,889 per year. That figure represents a 5.8 percent change, including a school-specific — or second-tier — increase of 1.8 percent.

Utah State University is seeking a second-tier increase of 1.5 percent, bringing the total proposed tuition for undergraduate residents to $5,563, a change of $290 more than current levels.

USU spokesman Tim Vitale said the tuition increase will be largely used for faculty compensation, including efforts to relieve bottleneck courses and give a boost to the school's counseling, psychological services and academic resources centers. Funds from the tuition increase will also be used to update technology in some of the campus' older buildings.

"These things are changing every year, and we’re constantly trying to keep up with the technological needs of classrooms," Vitale said.

A portion of the tuition revenue will be used to establish permanent funding for scholarships, he said, a response to a request by USU student leaders.

With the exception of last year when USU did not seek a second-tier tuition increase, Vitale said the 1.5 percent proposal is the smallest request the school has made in roughly 10 years.

He said the school administration — particularly USU President Stan Albrecht — is conscious of the tuition impact on students and makes efforts to reduce costs.

"He’s definitely aware that money comes from student pockets, so we’ve tried to keep things as low as we can," Vitale said.

The Utah Legislature appropriated $75 million in new funding to Utah's colleges and universities during its session that ended earlier this month. Included in that total was $50 million in acute equity funding that will be distributed primarily among Utah's rapidly growing open-enrollment institutions.

Vitale said USU received a portion of that equity funding for use at the school's regional campuses, and he credited lawmakers with working to address the needs of higher education to avoid steeper tuition hikes.

"We were extremely pleased with the work they did, and we’re hoping the economy stays as robust as it seemed to have done," Vitale said.

The third school seeking a second-tier tuition increase is Snow College, where the cost for undergraduate students is proposed to increase $169 to $2,999.

The first- and second-tier increases at Snow would combine for a 6 percent hike over the current year, the largest percentage jump of any Utah school, but Marvin Dodge, vice president for finance, said the school remains the most affordable option in the state.

Dodge said the tuition revenue will be used for personnel salaries and to restore the school's adjunct instructor budget, which was cut during the recession. Snow was one of two Utah schools to see increased enrollment last year, and Dodge said a reduced adjunct staff resulted in bottleneck courses and class scheduling conflicts.

"We’re continuing to see enrollment go up," he said. "Applications are coming in higher this year for the fall than they were last year, so we think we’re heading for another year of growth for the college."

Buhler said he hopes the trend of low tuition increases will continue. He said lawmakers have shown their support for higher education and that school administrators are focused on maximizing funding.

"We always need to look for ways to be more efficient," he said. "We always need to be innovative and spend every dollar we have as wisely as we can, and I know that our presidents are very much committed to doing that."

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