The Utah Board of Regents announced Friday that it will change how it approves tuition hikes, following the release of a scathing audit last month that found it regularly approves increases with little or no scrutiny.
The board currently approves a uniform increase each spring, set by percentage, for all the colleges in its system. This “tier one” increase — 1.5 percent this year, 2.5 percent the year before — covers inflation and staff compensation.
Individual universities can then lobby for an extra “tier two” increase to include more expenses, such as the construction of a new stadium or hiring more faculty.
But under the new rules approved at the board’s meeting Friday, the practice of setting a systemwide, uniform increase has been dropped. Instead, the board will set customized tuition rates for each school. The new process will be used to weigh tuition adjustments for 2019-2020 school year.
“We agreed with the recommendations of the audit and we have implemented them,” said Melanie Heath, a spokeswoman for the Board of Regents. “We’re going to do a deep dive with the institution’s specific needs and make sure that whatever adjustments are made from the board level are responding to the specific institution needs.”
The audit from the Office of the Legislative Auditor General released last month found that the board never rejected a proposed increase, rarely asked questions about requests and failed to significantly analyze how the additional money would be spent. That “superficial review” has meant students at the state’s eight public universities have footed a collective $131.7 million in tuition increases over the past five years.
Harris Simmons, chair of the Utah Board of Regents, said in a prepared statement that the new policies will “clarify and streamline” the tuition system.
“These changes will help provide the board with a robust tuition-setting process moving forward, which will be more transparent and will allow for greater public input,” he said.
As part of those efforts, Heath said she expects there will be more student voices involved in the tuition setting process but noted that the board hasn’t determined what that engagement will look like just yet.
In addition to the new tuition policy, the board also approved a “comprehensive” study that will, among other things, identify options the board can consider when defining affordability in setting tuition.
Utah’s public colleges do have some of the lowest tuition rates in the nation, but affordability is an issue of concern for Utahns, board documents note, given larger family sizes and the likelihood that more students attending college simultaneously are from the same family.