The doors of higher education will be slammed shut to 10,000 students if the tax-limitation initiatives are approved by Utah voters in November.
An immediate enrollment cut of 10,000 students out of Utah's 75,000 students in higher education, is just one response that higher education will be forced to make if it has to absorb a 13 percent budget cut or an estimated $34 million if the initiatives succeed.But just how higher education delivers the message of the enrollment reduction and the other forecast effects of the initiatives is something the State Board of Regents has been agonizing over in a meeting at Southern Utah State College.
All of the state's nine college and university presidents are speaking to various groups throughout the state about the problems that would be caused by the initiatives. But the present concern facing higher education is "how can we really get the public John Doe and Jane Doe to understand the impact?" said Wm. Rolfe Kerr, Utah commissioner of higher education.
Kerr said the regents have avoided drafting a "hit list" of initiative-forced cuts because of the potentially devastating effect it would have on the colleges named on the list.
He also warned that higher education must be careful to talk about cuts that will really be made or else the educators' integrity will be questioned.
The commissioner suggested that higher education's anti-initiative approach focus on two issues: The tax-limitation initiatives would end access to higher education and would impair higher education's ability to contribute to the state's economy.
He reiterated past predictions by his office: Enrollment would be trimmed by 10,000 students statewide, tuition would jump 25-30 percent, and educational programs, departments, schools or colleges within schools would be reduced or eliminated.
Diminished educational programs would seriously impair higher education's ability to provide the state with a trained work force, he said.
Regent Dale Zabriskie said the regents' message must include the fact that higher education has already had to handle eight budget cuts in the last 11 years. He said the public is being duped into believing that higher education has "fat" that can be sliced away, but that simply isn't true.
To clearly communicate the impact of the initiatives, Regent Elva Barnes suggested that the enrollment cuts be related to numbers that could be more clearly understood by the public. The regents talked about the fact that 10,000-student cut is equal to just under half of the 25,000 students in the freshman class statewide, although they didn't mean to suggest that half the freshman class would be dropped.
Weber State College President Stephen Nadauld said that an enrollment decrease would largely be self-selective because students won't go to a college or university if key faculty have already left or their programs have been reduced or eliminated.
That's what happened in Alaska. Utah Valley Community College President Kerry D. Romesburg, who came to the Provo school this month after 13 years as head of Alaska's system of higher education, said dwindling higher-education dollars in Alaska has caused a mass exodus of senior faculty members and has decimated entire departments. "We really think that the damage done with our severe cuts will take 10-12 years to overcome."
Romesburg later told the Deseret News that Alaska's system of higher education was cut 38 percent over three years - 15 percent in the first year - because of dropping oil prices.
Alaska has no personal or property taxes and only local-option sales taxes. It relies on taxes on the oil industry to fund 82 percent of the state's budget, so when oil prices plummeted in 1984, so did the state's revenue.
Senior faculty at the state's colleges and universities left en masse and engineering was particularly hard hit, he said.
So many key faculty left and the library holdings were so depleted that Alaska's universities now are in danger of losing their accreditation, he said.
Fewer dollars meant that the state's 10 community colleges and three universities had to be combined into only three regional universities. "The community college system as a whole had to be dismantled," Romesburg said.
The effect of the depletion of the programs spilled over into enrollment, he said. Applications for admissions for this fall are down 23 percent over last year. Alaska has 27,000 students in its system of higher education.
Romesburg said that Alaska didn't choose to hurt higher education; it came from the faltering oil economy. "If it happens here, it is because we have done it to ourselves," he said.