The unexpected flood of new students into Utah's colleges and universities will head higher education's lobbying list at the 1991 Utah Legislature.
"Enrollment has to be our biggest issue," said Commissioner of Higher Education Wm. Rolfe Kerr.
For years, higher education has anticipated that the bubble that inflated the student ranks in public education would move onto the state's nine colleges and universities. But this year's increase was bigger than expected and included students older than high school graduates.
Higher education wants $19.5 million to fund 6,551 new students next fall plus $5.6 million in a supplemental one-time appropriation to pay for students already enrolled this year but who were unfunded by legislative appropriation. The institutions have funded this year's students by spending higher percentages of their budgets in the fall.
Access to higher education is the No. 1 priority in a requested budget of $467.3 million, including $352.9 million in state funds. The regents want a $57.6 million, or 19.48 percent boost, in state funds.
The governor, however, has recommended a $26.1 million increase, or 8.82 percent increase, in state funds for higher education. While the governor agreed with increased funding for enrollment, he backed out the money requested for 951 out-of-state students.
The commissioner said he has had clear signals from legislative leadership that they understand higher education's enrollment crunch, although he has no funding promises.
For the first time in several years, enrollment growth has jumped ahead of faculty/staff salaries as higher education's No. 1 priority. But still contained in the regents' proposed budget is a request to catch up faculty salaries to their out-of-state peers. Utah faculty salaries are 13-28 percent below their peers elsewhere. The request, which was not recommended by the governor, would catch up salaries by one-fourth of the gap (the amount varies by school).
The regents also want a 5 percent cost-of-living raise plus compensation for faculty/staff. The governor recommended a combined 5 percent salary/compensation package for all state workers.
Kerr said he hasn't given up on obtaining salary equity for faculty, but he also recognizes the Legislature's unwritten policy of giving all state workers the same raise.
While the budget will occupy higher education's main efforts, officials are also interested in:
- A bill to provide matching dollars for endowments. The bill provides for the state to match private dollars for endowed faculty chairs and scholarships.
- A bill, based on work by a regent committee, that would clarify the working relationships between
college/university presidents, institutional councils and regents.
- Authorization to issue revenue bonds for Utah State University married student housing; Weber State University, Dixie College and Utah Valley Community Colleges student services buildings; and Salt Lake Community College classroom/-physical education building.
- Bills that would require at least one regent to be selected from each county where a college or university is located and that would centralized the personnel system of all institutions. Unlike the other items, the regents will oppose both bills.