Students at Utah’s public colleges and universities will be paying more next school year, but increased funding from the state helped keep those increases relatively low.
The state Board of Regents unanimously approved tuition bumps ranging from 4 percent to 6 percent at the state’s eight public institutions Friday.
“This year was a historic re-investment in higher education by the Utah State Legislature,” said Commissioner for Higher Education Dave Buhler.
Lawmakers gave schools another $81 million, most of it earmarked to help the ones whose per-student funding dropped the most during the recession.
But the state bump comes after decades of declining support for higher education, and the growing reliance on student dollars makes it more difficult to get an education, said University of Utah sophomore Luq Mughal.
Students “are struggling in school because they have to work a lot harder to keep up with the rising expenses ... a lot of people aren’t going to graduate because of continuously rising tuition costs. Even if they do, their grades suffer to the point where they can’t get a good job,” said Mughal. “It’s just crushing dreams.”
Tuition at the U. has doubled over the last decade. Mughal protested the rising costs in January by paying his bill with a suitcase full of dollar bills, and wants more students to join him next time.
Most of the extra state money in 2014-15 will go to pay faculty and staff, officials said.
“Ideally, there would be no increase, but in the world we live in there pretty much always will be some kind of increase,” Buhler said. “We’re a very people-intensive enterprise. Most of our budget, 80 to 85 percent, is compensation.”
The extra state cash helped keep the system’s average hike to 4.7 percent, the lowest in 14 years.
The largest hike, 6 percent, will come at the two-year Snow College, though it will still charge the lowest tuition in the state.
The school also pays its employees the least, said Marvin Dodge, vice president for finance and administrative services.
“We have a concern about retention now that the economy is improving,” he said. The extra tuition money will go to a 3 percent raise for faculty and staff, and more money to hire adjunct professors.
“We have more faculty that are searching for employment where they can get paid more. If they’re successful in finding jobs, we have to find high-quality replacements,” Dodge said.
Most of the schools that kept tuition increases lowest this year were also those that got the most money from the state.
Lawmakers approved $50 million in equity funding to be divided between Utah Valley University, Salt Lake Community College, Dixie State University and Weber State University, as well as the regional campuses of at USU.
Those schools suffered the most during the recession, as a record number of students enrolled as the state cut funding. UVU’s per-pupil funding, for example, was less than half that of the U.