There’s no doubt about the importance of open-access, career-oriented colleges and universities to Utah’s goal of preparing youth for good jobs and productive lives.
Salt Lake Community College, Dixie State University, Utah Valley University, Snow College, Weber State University, Southern Utah University – all these institutions focus on student achievement. Their faculties put teaching ahead of research. That is their mission, and they are the linchpins of the state’s campaign to help two-thirds of all adults in the state with degrees or certificates by 2020.
But to continue accepting all students, with varying levels of scholastic ability and a range of backgrounds, and to give all of them the skills they need to compete in a global job marketplace, these institutions are making a good case at the Legislature for an infusion of money.
Funding for Utah colleges and universities shifted more than 13 percent from state appropriations to higher tuition during recession years. Tuition increases ranged from 5 percent to 10 percent during those years.
While tuition is higher at all Utah colleges and universities, the workhorse institutions have been disproportionately hard-hit. Across the country, junior colleges are funded about 70 percent from state allocations and 30 percent from tuition. In Utah, the research universities, University of Utah and Utah State University, get a larger percentage of their funding from the state than do the open-access institutions.
At WSU, Dixie, SUU and SLCC, for example, the percentages are about 50-50 state funding vs. tuition, and the split is about 40-60 at UVU. That makes it difficult them to attract low-income, older, and minority students – those students they are tasked to serve.
A proposal from the Utah Board of Regents called "Acute Equity" would funnel $69 million from the state to these colleges and universities, based on $4,800 per student, to reach a more appropriate ratio. Perhaps surprisingly, Utah State University and the University of Utah, which would not benefit directly from such a reallocation, also support it.
That’s because those top-tier research universities benefit from transfer students from SLCC and other colleges who are ready for upper-division work and graduate programs. About 70 percent of SLCC’s students who transfer after completing basic courses go to the U., and many others to USU.
Administrators at the research institutions see the value of keeping Utah’s system of higher education accessible to all Utahns. It aligns nicely with Gov. Gary Herbert’s and the Utah business community’s goal of a well-educated workforce in just six years. Legislators should pass the proposal.
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