There are many workers in America in both the public and private sectors who have not seen a pay increase for years. The effects of the Great Recession are still apparent in frozen wages and lost retirement benefits as well as high unemployment.
But here in Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert believes the state can afford to give state employees a 1 percent raise in the coming fiscal year. That's good news for public school teachers and others. However, he has neglected to include employees of state colleges and universities in his budget recommendation.
That exclusion is simply unfair, and it hardly seems necessary, because extending the same pay raise to all state employees, including those working in higher education, would cost just $6.7 million. That's a tidy sum, to be sure, but a tiny fraction of the total education budget.
The issue is equity. Why should employees of the state whose jobs have something to do with our public colleges and universities whether as secretaries, professors or maintenance workers be considered in a different category from other state employees?
There is one avenue open to colleges and universities to increase pay either across the board or to specific professors or departments, but it requires a hike in tuition. Only Southern Utah University has chosen this route to set up compensation for 20 new faculty this year. Others have decided not to further burden students who are already struggling to pay the costs of a college degree or certificate.
Even Utah Valley University, the fastest-growing and most overcrowded higher education institution in Utah, has not raised tuition for pay increases but has had to limit the number of some course sections, forcing about 1,700 students to give up and enroll elsewhere or simply drop out.
Although Utah colleges and universities remain at the low end on total cost among American institutions, rapidly rising tuition is threatening to derail a plan to have two-thirds of all Utahns holding degrees or certificates by 2020. The University of Utah is an economic engine for the state, and the quality of academics as well as athletics led to inclusion of the U. in the prestigious Pac-12 conference.
But comparatively low compensation could threaten the standing of Utah's flagship research institution and make it difficult to attract and retain quality faculty and staff. The same is true at other institutions.
If there is money in Utah's budget to provide a small pay increase to state employes, the boost should go to all state employees, including those who work in higher education.