Students at one college in Utah will be paying less to go there next year than they are now.
For this fall, Southern Utah University requested no increase in tuition — the third year in a row — and, in a first ever for the state, it asked to decrease the amount it charges in fees. That means the overall cost to attend is going to be about $22 cheaper per semester.
“This is just remarkable,” said one member of the Utah Board of Higher Education, which oversees the state’s colleges and annually approves their individual tuition requests.
Another called it “inspirational.” A third said some might not be impressed by $44 a year, but the move is unheard of in higher education. “It’s spectacular and stunning,” noted board member Alan Hall, especially with the hardships some students may be facing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
SUU President Scott Wyatt, though, just said it was part of the university’s continued efforts to focus on affordability for students and not making cost a barrier to enrollment.
“That has become a majority priority for us,” he noted.
The landmark move came during the annual tuition hearings Thursday for the state’s eight public colleges. SUU was the only school not to request a hike.
Tuition increases will go ahead at the seven other institutions, with the highest jump at Utah State University, at 6.02%. The next biggest is Dixie State University, at 5%.
The University of Utah has the lowest at 2.5%. But when tuition and fees are combined, the overall increase in cost is 1.56%.
This year, the Utah Board of Higher Education instructed all of the colleges to examine where they could potentially shift fees over into tuition. Expenses that largely all students benefit from, such as utilities, are inherent as part of attendance and don’t need to be separated out, the board said. Ongoing costs that won’t change soon, such as providing available computer labs, can also be included in tuition, it said.
Anything that might fluctuate, such as student involvement and events, was supposed to remain in fees, with a transparent line item detailing the cost. The board’s chair, Harris Simmons, described the process as realigning where the charges come.
It’s not a decrease, but a repositioning of funds. And it comes after the state criticized the process in 2018 for increasing tuition and fees — which previously saw every proposal granted without question.
Another audit last year said many fees were being charged for services students didn’t use and asked colleges to reassess.
“We’ve taken steps as a board in recent months to ensure that the cost of college is clear to Utah students,” Simmons said.
With those changes, about 11.5% of fees across the institutions were moved into tuition. It largely won’t change how they’re spent. But it did make the tuition increase percentages appear artificially high this year across the board, while nearly every school saw a large decrease in fees.
The overall combined amounts, though, stayed relatively flat and are a more accurate reflection of the actual increases students will face.
Systemwide, there was a 1.98% jump in combined tuition and fees across the eight schools, for an average increase of $119. Of course, with SUU, one school was at 0%.
Here are the approved increases, in order of the highest overall combined cost of tuition and fees to the lowest.
University of Utah
• Tuition increase: 2.5%, or $210.45 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 4.79%, or minus $59, for a total of $1,188 per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. No new fees were added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 1.56% increase overall, for $9,816.85 per year.
The state’s flagship university and research institution has the highest tuition of any public school in the state, but this latest 2.5% increase falls in line with its more modest requests in recent years — including the lowest in recent memory, 2%, from last year.
Christian Gardner, chair of the U.’s board of trustees, presented data that showed even with the bump, the U. is still the cheapest to attend out of its fellow Pac-12 competitors.
Most of the funds raised with the new hike will go toward annual staff compensation increases, added outgoing U. President Ruth Watkins, who is leaving at the end of next month. Each year, the Legislature designates 75% of the funds needed to go to those mandated raises. Schools are expected to cover the rest.
Watkins said the university will also specifically look at equity with faculty, making sure that salaries are equal across genders, races and ethnicities.
Some of the money will fund programs to keep students from dropping out and for recruiting first-time, low-income and minority students. Watkins highlighted the For Utah Scholarship started in 2019 as one of those efforts. That combines federal and state funds to pay for four years of tuition and fees at the U. for low-income students. The president called it “a big game changer for our institution.”
Additionally, part of the increase comes from moving over the fees for the library, school utilities and others into tuition; those weren’t eliminated, just shifted over. And overall, students will see a net increase in total tuition and fees of about $150 per year starting this summer.
Utah State University
• Tuition increase: 6.02%, or $405.54 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 18.62%, or minus $210, for a total of $918 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. No new fees were added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 2.49% increase overall, for $8,054.98 per year.
Utah State’s main campus in Logan will see the highest percentage tuition increase of any school in the state this year.
But, again, that’s largely because of a shift of fees into tuition — and the school also is moving the largest amount over, roughly $210 per year. The fees that will now be rolled into tuition largely include counseling and health services.
USU President Noelle Cockett said the school is focused on improving mental health and trying to identify any gaps where students aren’t getting the help they need.
The extra money from the tuition hike will also go to faculty raises and mentorship programs for first-generation students.
Southern Utah University
• Tuition increase: None.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 5.76%, or minus $44, for a total of $719 in fees per year.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 0.65% decrease overall, for $6,726 per year.
For the third year in a row, SUU has not requested a tuition increase. And, in addition to that, it’s also decreasing its fees slightly.
President Wyatt said the student body has been growing each year, but the school has been able to reallocate funds to cover its expenses. For one thing, Wyatt gave up his office to save money. He and other leaders also offered to forego their salaries this year, if needed, when the budget was strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
He wants everyone to be able to access college — and not be deterred by the price.
Along with that, the university also got approval to introduce a new online bachelor’s degree in general studies designed for students who got some class credits and then dropped out. They can finish this degree online for $75 per credit — or about $9,000 total.
It’s believed to be is the least expensive college degree offered by any public university in the nation.
Because it’s online, students won’t be charged fees for that.
And, overall, the school reduced its fees for those on campus for its computer labs and for the maintenance of its art museum. “It’s currently generating more than necessary,” added Rich Christiansen, chair of SUU’s board of trustees, “and those should be supported by the regular budget.”
The school also secured a sponsorship to cover the price of student ID cards, which used to require a fee due to printing costs.
Weber State University
• Tuition increase: 4.7%, or $239 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 11.5%, or minus $117, for a total of $899 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. A few new fees were also added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 2% increase overall, to $6,228 per year.
“Nobody likes to charge tuition, but we’ve tried to keep the pressure on tuition rising too much,” said Weber State board of trustees’ chair Nolan Harris.
With the increase, though, Weber State now rises above Utah Valley University — which it previously fell below last year — for having higher tuition.
The Ogden school said it will use about $495,000 from the hike to pay for faculty promotions. President Brad Mortensen said Weber State is also working on a five-year plan to recruit and retain more staff of color.
Additionally, about 70% of students there, he estimated, receive some kind of financial aid. And the school intends to continue offering that, including specific programs for low-income students and those who are undocumented.
Utah Valley University
• Tuition increase: 3.39%, or $176 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 10.08%, or minus $72, for a total of $642 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. One new fee was also added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 1.76% increase overall, to $6,010 per year.
As the leader of one of the few open enrollment schools in the state, UVU President Astrid Tuminez said it was important for her to keep tuition fairly level this year.
She worries the pandemic will push more students away from pursuing higher education. And if costs rise too much, Tuminez fears, that will be another hurdle.
The school raised tuition to cover the pay increases for professors, she said, as well as more efforts to support low-income students.
Dixie State University
• Tuition increase: 5%, or $242 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 5%, or minus $42, for a total of $798 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. There were also some small increases added to the remaining fees for mental health and student involvement. And a new fee to start a marching band will be added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 3.53% increase overall, to $5,862 per year.
Dixie State University in St. George has the highest overall increase of tuition and fees combined of the eight public colleges.
“You’re at the high end of the system. Do you see this trend abating?” asked Simmons.
President Richard Williams said it’s difficult when the student body continues to grow at at rate among the fastest in the state. Just this last year, the school gained 850 students — and it expects that to continue.
The school similarly had the highest tuition increase last year, too, at 3% then. Williams, though, added that he believes Dixie State is “still affordable.”
The university is currently going through the process of possibly changing its name, which many associate with the Confederacy and slavery. Williams said that has hampered efforts to recruit students and staff of color. But he hopes with the new name and extra funding for more programs, that will change.
“It’s difficult, quite frankly, because of our name,” he acknowledged Thursday.
Additionally, the school is moving some fees over into tuition. And the remaining fee charge for health and wellness will increase by $10.50 to add more mental health resources for students.
“This is probably what I’m most proud of,” said David Clark, chair of the university’s board of trustees. “Our community is so underserved” with this.
The school is also adding a new fee, at the request of students, to cover the cost of forming a marching band.
Salt Lake Community College
• Tuition increase: 4.13% or $144 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 9.38%, or minus $47, for a total of $454 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. There was an increase in other fees, including one for health and wellness.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 2.4% increase overall, to $4,085.50 per year.
SLCC moved some of its fees over into tuition but it also added new fees. The school transferred its student newspaper, ID card and recycling into tuition. It also shifted the charge associated with running its Gender and Sexuality Student Resource Center over to that.
But the school added $24 in increases per year with upping the prices for health and wellness and athletics, as well as expanding its child care program.
The school serves the most diverse and nontraditional students of any in the state. And the child care program, said President Deneece Huftalin, is crucial to making sure students who are also parents can attend their classes.
Utah Board of Higher Education member Pat Jones applauded the effort, saying it’s something that all colleges in the state should be doing.
In addition, Huftalin said, the school has worked to remove other costs not apparent in these tuition and fees numbers. It has eliminated the specific fees on five courses and reduced them on 32 others. It is also waiving its $40 application fee this year. And it has provided $370,000 for students in crisis with a special fund set up during the pandemic.
Moving forward, the president wants to continue working to get the composition of the student body to match the diverse demographics of the surrounding neighborhoods of the college. That effort took a hit with COVID-19, which has impacted people of color at higher rates.
• Tuition increase: 3.73%, or $130 more per year.
• Additional fee changes: Fees will decrease by 9.86%, or minus $42, for a total of $384 in fees per year. But that’s because those fees were shifted to become part of the increased cost of tuition now. No new fees were added.
• New combined total with fees and tuition for average in-state student: 2.25% increase overall, to $4,000 per year.
Snow College remains with the lowest tuition in the state, and “we pride ourselves on being the most affordable,” said Leslie Keisel, the chair of the school’s board of trustees.
She said the school plans to spend the money it raises from its 3.73% increase mostly on staff raises. The college is also focused on equity and removing barriers for students to access higher education.
It shifted its fees for graduation and computer technology into tuition.
None of the state’s eight traditional technical colleges raised their cost of attendance this year. Part of that, acknowledged Dave Woolstenhulme, the commissioner of higher education for Utah, is because the Legislature funds faculty raises at those institutions at 100% instead of 75%.
“They have zero debt,” he said. “They take out zero loans.”