SALT LAKE CITY — The Senate Education Committee gave unanimous support Monday to HB300, which would allow governors to remove — for cause — members of the Utah State Board of Regents and university and college trustees.
The catch-all "Higher Education Modifications" bill will be substituted before it reaches the Senate floor to further clarify if and under what circumstances a governor can remove a sitting regent or remove a college or university trustee, said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Val Peterson, R-Orem.
Governors appoint regents and trustees, which are then confirmed by the Utah Senate. Regents serve six-year terms.
While some committee members raised concerns that a governor could purge the board of members with whom he or she had political differences, others like Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said the appointment process requires Senate approval.
"I think there's enough protection in there that if someone went wild in doing that without the 'for cause,' I suspect they’d have some trouble in the Senate," Hillyard said.
David Buhler, Utah's commissioner of higher education, said he would also like language on tuition waivers to be clarified in the bill.
Currently, state law caps at 10 percent the total amount of tuition which, "in the absence of the waivers, would have been collected from all Utah resident students at the institution of higher education," the statute states.
"There's no limit how much they can waive for nonresident students. As we look at tremendous growth in our system with many Utahns needing to access higher education, it seems there ought to be a way to also cap the amount of nonresident tuition waived and that doesn't appear to be in the language," Buhler said.
State colleges and universities have increased total tuition waivers from $81 million in fiscal year 2014 to $138.1 million in fiscal year 2017, which is a 70.6 percent increase, according to a brief prepared by legislative fiscal analysts.
The issue has been a hot topic of discussion before the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee this session, which at one point discussed establishing some means to encourage colleges and university's to rein in their use.
Higher education officials say tuition waivers help keep college affordable and encourage students from out of state to attend college in Utah. However, costs of not collecting full tuition have to be covered elsewhere, generally through cost-cutting measures or tuition increases.
There are 21 types of waivers approved by the Legislature for use by state colleges and universities.
As an example, Utah State University’s Alumni Legacy Nonresident Waiver forgives half of nonresident tuition for first-time undergraduate students from out of state whose parents or grandparent are USU alumni.2 comments on this story
"All in all, only about 12 percent of our students receive waivers. It's a very important tool for the presidents of the institutions but it can be very important for students in helping college to be affordable. This (HB300) would provide some additional oversight for the board of regents and focus the attention of the presidents on how much money is being waived and for what purposes," Buhler said.
HB300 also formally establishes in state code the name UTech, when referring to the Utah System of Technical Colleges.
The bill also would require the Utah Senate to confirm the student member of the Utah State Board of Regents. A new student member is appointed by the governor annually.