The State Board of Regents accelerated Friday its efforts to manage the student-enrollment growth that threatens to swamp college and university resources.
Under the recommendation of Commissioner of Higher Education Wm. Rolfe Kerr, the regents agreed to have a committee develop an enrollment action plan, reporting back its suggestions to the 16-member governing body of higher education in the spring. The plan will then be taken to legislators and community leaders at a higher-education summit.The regents held their monthly meeting Friday at Utah Valley Community College.
At the heart of the committee's investigation will be the examination of two issues: the open access to the state's nine colleges and universities balanced against quality education and the conversion of two-year community colleges to four-year status.
Both the enrollment growth and an expanded role for community colleges seriously challenge Utah higher education, Kerr told the regents.
For years, the regents have known the bubble of students that inflated the ranks of public education was moving into higher education. But this fall's unexpected enrollment surge surprised the higher-education prognosticators, with 3,671 more students than had been expected showing up on the college campuses. Overall, student enrollment increased 8.8 percent fall quarter.
The unexpected enrollment growth prompted the regents to seek a $5.6 million supplemental appropriation for this year's 4,500 students who are unfunded by appropriation. Higher officials will take their request to the Legislature next month.
Additionally, the regents want $19.5 million added to the ongoing base budget to fund 6,551 new full-time students next fall. The governor, however, recommended Friday that funding be appropriated for only new resident students with a $12.8 million increase in state tax funds.
"This growing enrollment demand is forcing us to confront the quality-access tension that we have talked about for years," Kerr said. "We have said that we will not allow the erosion of educational quality, but we are now faced with the equally undesirable prospect of turning students away from higher education opportunities to maintain quality."
Supporters of UVCC have talked about expanding the community college to a four-year institution. The enrollment ceiling at neighboring Brigham Young University has limited the opportunities for Utah County college students.
Kerr said now isn't the time for community colleges to be expanded, especially considering the enormous costs associated with switching from two-year to four-year schools.
He pointed out a proposal to develop university centers at the community colleges as a way for students at two-year schools to take baccalaureate courses on their own campuses. The regents placed funding for university centers in their budget request. Their funding, however, is not recommended by the governor.
One task of the enrollment committee, Kerr said, will be "to establish criteria to determine under what circumstances that the regents may recommend to the Legislature the conversion of any community college to a four-year institution."