Karl Rostron didn't know if college was a realistic dream when he was growing up in the small Sanpete County town of Mt. Pleasant. Although he valued education, family finances loomed as an insurmountable obstacle to higher education.
But he cleared that hurdle when he received a scholarship to Snow College, where he eventually became student body president. After completing work at the two-year school, Rostron transferred to the four-year Southern Utah State College in Cedar City. Through help of a working wife and financial aid, Rostron can now see his goal of a college diploma.Rostron thinks most students at Utah's rural colleges are like himself, struggling to afford tuition plus costs of room and board. "Students in the worst circumstances are the ones who end up paying the most," he said.
Rostron worries about the students who will follow him into Snow and SUSC and those with sights on Dixie, College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University. He is concerned that higher education will slip from their grasp if the tax initiatives pass Nov. 8.
In the conflicting figures and rhetoric swirling around predictions of higher education under the tax initiatives, those at Utah's rural colleges feel they have been forgotten. Yet they believe they are the ones who may be hurt the worst.
Those who will feel the impact most deeply if the initiatives pass can't easily be singled out. There is no regent "hit list" for specific colleges or programs.
But the regents have estimated that tax limitation would reduce the state appropriation to Utah's nine colleges and universities by $34 million, or 13 percent.
The state system of higher education gets no money from property taxes, so only Initiative B, which would roll back income, gasoline, cigarette, alcohol, and sales taxes, would affect the state appropriation to higher education.
The regents have said that to absorb a $34 million cut would require cutting 8,000-10,000 students out of a total systemwide enrollment of approximately 75,000 students and raising tuition 25-30 percent to make up for decreased revenue. Tuition at state schools runs between $1,000 and $1,500 a year.
Commissioner of Higher Education Wm. Rolfe Kerr said the simplest decision would be a pro rata, across-the-board cut, but the commissioner questions whether this "meat-ax approach" would be feasible.
"The smaller institutions all have a basic core program. If they take a pro rata share, then they lose part of a full collegiate program," Kerr said.
Lee Allen, spokesman for the tax limitation proponents, said he hasn't studied the operations of the smaller colleges to know what would happen to them.
But he thinks whatever happens to higher education, if the initiatives pass, will depend upon a state leadership that sets reasonable priorities. "I personally wouldn't put in place priorities that would take deep cuts out of the smaller colleges.
"What the Board of Regents, and specifically Rolfe Kerr, has done is take a hypothetical situation and applied it hypothetically so it scares the daylights out of a lot of people," Allen said.
School closures have been mentioned, although there is no commitment to that alternative. "If you eliminated one or two schools, you wouldn't gain much with those relatively small budgets. But those rural areas are so dependent on the colleges for an economic base, you'd decimate the area," Kerr said.
The colleges and predictions of the tax-limitation impact are:
Dixie College, St. George - President Doug Alder said the St. George school would be hit with a double whammy because it offers vocational education courses through a cooperative program with Washington County School District, which would lose vocational funds allocated to it from the State Office of Education.
Of an enrollment of 2,200, 325 students would be eliminated, and 21 faculty and staff would be cut from a total of 195. If tuition were raised 30 percent, that would add an extra $270 in tuition per student.
Alder said about 1,000 of the school's student body come from Washington County. "They could go to school in Las Vegas, but that would mean higher tuition and room and board there," he said.
The college president said Dixie students rent 1,400 privately owned units in St. George. Loss of students also means loss of revenue to small businesses plus the city's convention business is tied closely to the college, he said. Dixie is one of the county's six major employers.
College of Eastern Utah, Price - President Michael A. Petersen reported CEU gets 85 percent of its 1,400 students from the state's four southeastern counties - Carbon, Emery, San Juan and Grand. A 13 percent cut would eliminate 140 to 190 full-time students.
"We have an unusually large number of non-traditional students who have been out of high school a number of years and are employed or unemployed and need to upgrade their skills," said Petersen, who placed the CEU's student average age at 25.
A 13 percent cut also would eliminate 18-20 faculty and staff out of a total of 100. Petersen said that would be particularly difficult at CEU because one-third of the academic departments and one-half of the vocational departments are one-person departments.
Snow College, Ephraim - The two-year college increased its student body by 200 this year, going from 1,400 to 1,600 students. President Steven Bennion said the same number - 200 - would be turned away if a 13 percent cut occurs.
About one half of the students come from six-county central Utah and about 80 percent live away from home. "I see tax limitation as a serious thing, particularly for rural Utah. Our per capita income is about two-thirds of the state level, and, of course, the state is about 80 percent of the nation. Without rural institutions or with reductions in them, you freeze out rural students," Bennion said.
Like CEU, Snow has many one-person departments, and Bennion estimates a reduction of 20 from a total faculty and staff of 140.
Southern Utah State College, Cedar City - President Gerald R. Sherratt said 80 percent of SUSC's approximately 3,000 students come from the state's 15 southern counties. He estimated 200 to 300 students would be eliminated under the tax limitation plan.
However, he said that it could be more like 500 students because higher tuition would price many SUSC students out of the collegiate market. Sherratt said one-third of SUSC students come from families with incomes of $15,000 or less. These students borrow heavily to go to school, so a 30 percent tuition increase could end college careers, Sherratt said.
Iron County's economy is heavily dependent on SUSC. Sherratt reported that one of every 10 jobs in the county is tied to the college.
Utah State University, Logan - Unlike the other institutions of higher learning in rural Utah, USU is a major university. But like the smaller counties, it, too, figures prominently in Cache County's economic stability.
USU President Stanford Cazier said a 13 percent cut would slice $8 million out of the university's $62 million state appropriation. That would translate into cutting 1,400 students, 30 percent of whom come from Cache Valley, and 201 employees. Of the state appropriation, 90 percent goes to salaries.
While USU receives $62 million from the state, it brings in $55 million in grants and salaries. Like the University of Utah, USU is worried that tax-limitation will send its faculty into the arms of out-of-state universities.
"Of our 714 faculty members, 110 generate 80 percent of that $55 million. They are very, very able and very, very mobile. If the state pulls out the rug with the tax initiatives, I'm confident we'll lose a substantial number of those faculty and their grants. That's not a scarce tactic. That's reality," Cazier said.