Utah higher ed gets 3 percent bump, but many funding requests languish
Higher education emerged from the legislative session with a 3 percent increase in state funding, including the $7 million needed to fund a 1 percent compensation bump for faculty and other campus employees, as well as $8 million for a new mission-based funding model.
"They funded our top two priorities. We're pretty happy with that. We could use more, but we know they have a lot of demands on them," said David Buhler, associate commissioner of higher education.
Lawmakers also pledged $22 million toward upgrading the University of Utah's failing power and hot-water distribution system, projected to cost nearly $100 million. Turned down were several other campus proposals, including Weber State University's request to replace its science building. The Legislature did award $2.2 million toward planning a new classroom building at Utah Valley University, however.
In the session's closing days, lawmakers approved bills that carry cost implications for certain students.
SB284, which overcame bipartisan opposition in the House, would require high-school students to pay up to $30 per credit for certain concurrent enrollment courses. Gov. Gary Herbert is concerned it could discourage students from getting a jump start on college. The bill was amended to exempt economically disadvantaged students, as well as "gateway" and digitally delivered courses.
HB124 would require colleges to grant in-state tuition to military reservists assigned to Utah and recently discharged veterans.
A bill that cleared the House would have allowed high-school students to count college-level courses toward a Regents' Scholarship, potentially expanding the number of qualifying students. But the Senate allowed HB284, which carried a $12.5 million fiscal note, to languish without a hearing. Meanwhile, lawmakers boosted the scholarship's funding by $1 million, which is not enough to keep up with the program's growth. Therefore, Regents' exemplary award will likely be cut from $1,250 a semester to $900, according to Buhler.
Another successful bill requires the Board of Regents and Utah College of Applied Technology to obtain the governor and Senate's approval in hiring those agencies' top executives. SB39 also enables the governor to fire sitting commissioners of higher education and UCAT presidents.
For the second year in a row, a bill to do away with faculty tenure on public campuses died in committee.