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Report: Utah gov's education goal has hefty price tag

Published November 15, 2013 10:11 pm

Tax funding, tuition, enrollment would all need to rise to 66% to get a post-secondary education.
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Ephraim • State funding for higher education and student enrollment will have to ramp up significantly to meet Gov. Gary Herbert's goal of bringing the number of Utahns with postsecondary education to 66 percent in the next seven years, according to a new report from the Utah System of Higher Education.

Public money would have to increase by 11 percent a year, significantly more than the 2 percent average annual increase the Utah Legislature has given the state's colleges and universities over the last decade.

"It's not going to be easy. It's going to be a challenge for us," Herbert told the Utah Board of Regents Friday. "Let's see if we can't have success whatever our limitations are with our budget."

He set the goal after a Georgetown University study found that 66 percent of the state's jobs would require a degree or postsecondary certificate by 2020. The number of Utahns with post-high school qualifications is now at 45 percent.

"If we don't raise the bar on education by 2018, our economy will start to underperform," Herbert said.

Raising that bar, though, won't be easy. To meet Herbert's goal, the number of public college students will have to grow by nearly 100,000 over the next seven years.

That's an 8 percent annual growth rate, which means the state will have to nearly match the record-setting 8.3 percent growth from 2009 every year for the next seven years.

The plan "is very aggressive," said David Buhler, Utah commissioner for higher education. "We're going to do the very best we can with the resources we have."

And all of those new students will need professors, classrooms and more course offerings, which don't come cheap: The total cost of operating public higher education would increase from $1.5 billion to about $2.2 billion.

Tuition would also likely increase. The report predicted tuition hikes of 6 percent a year, continuing similar increases over the last decade.

"If we do a 6 percent tuition increase a year, are we starting to price people out?" asked Regent Wilford Clyde.

Regents suggested offering more online courses to help offset costs to students — though if state funding goes up, tuition won't have to increase as much.