PRICE — A preliminary budget detailing nearly $27 million in funding requests for higher education in 2009-10 was approved by the Board of Regents Friday during its meeting at the College of Eastern Utah.

The recommended priorities, which earmark requests over a base budget of $767.1 million, is "much more modest than usual," said William A. Sederburg, commissioner of higher education. He said the request is about $55 million to $85 million less than regents had considered earlier due to changes in the economy. It amounts to a 3.4 percent increase over the current year's budget.

Aside from that, the board outlined its growing wish list for campus building projects, which totals nearly $284 million. Those funding requests are separate from the base budget.

The top priority, Sederburg said, is maintaining key faculty positions with appropriate compensation at institutions statewide. For Utah State University and the University of Utah, competitive salaries are important to obtaining research funding from national sources.

U. President Michael K. Young said nearly a third of his faculty have received employment offers from competing schools across the country. Researchers often leave for better funding opportunities, even though the U. pulls in hundreds of millions in research dollars.

"We are capable of hiring world-class professors," he said. "But keeping them remains an enormous challenge."

Other budget priorities include $5.9 million for increasing operating costs, $5 million to bolster student financial aid and $10 million to address workforce shortages in teaching, career and technical education, and engineering and computer science. Enrollment numbers, which are growing on all 10 public college campuses, will also effect state funding in the final budget.

The Regents are asking for about $2.2 million in one-time increases and $660,500 in supplemental funding, but even expecting the latter, face a "challenging year" in available state funding, Sederburg said.

"While we are in an economic downturn, we need to recognize that universities and colleges are a part of turning that downturn around," he said.

Regents also approved a list of higher education capital project priorities, totaling $284 million in state funding requests, including 10 buildings involving either new construction or renovation.

The U.'s proposed renovation of the David Eccles School of Business heads the list, closely followed Salt Lake Community College's request for a digital art and design building. Other projects include building requests from each school except Snow College to accommodate growing needs and enrollment.

The system is also building on its own with $114.9 million in private or nonstate-funded projects dotting campuses statewide.

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