Going to college just got a little bit cheaper for Utahns

Starting in January, Utah students will be able to apply to any in-state public college for free.

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College applications for Utah students just got a little easier — or at least cheaper.

In a landmark move, the state’s Board of Higher Education voted Friday to eliminate the application fee for all Utah students applying to public colleges and universities in the state. That means submitting applications for the eight public schools here will soon be free for any resident.

With the unanimous decision, Utah appears to be one of the first in the country to entirely waive application fees for in-state students.

Other states, including New York and North Carolina, have previously waived fees for a few weeks to encourage more students to apply. But Utah’s step is meant to be permanent.

“We need to remove the barriers,” said Steve Neeleman, vice chair of the board.

Neeleman said the state is focused on making college more accessible to all students — and part of that is affordability. He doesn’t want a student to be unable to apply because of concern over the cost of the application. (The board has similarly worked to provide more funding for scholarships for low-income students to cover the cost of tuition once admitted.)

The fees for Utah’s colleges and universities range from $20 at Salt Lake Community College to $55 at the University of Utah.

Southern Utah University had been the only public school in the state not charging a fee. SLCC had previously done so, temporarily, in 2021 before reinstating its fee (though lowering it from $40).

Deneece Huftalin, the outgoing president of Salt Lake Community College, said: “We know that removing application fees has improved applications in the state before, and we would like to see that trend continue.”

The eliminated fees will begin in January, when most colleges open up their general application portals. It applies only to those living in Utah applying to the public schools in the state. But it includes any age of student, including those who are returning to school or those who have never attended.

The schools free for Utah students to apply to will be: the University of Utah, Utah State University, Utah Valley University, Utah Tech University, Weber State University, Southern Utah University, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College. The state’s technical colleges will also waive the application fee.

Geoff Landward, the interim commissioner for higher education in the state, said the system will have to figure out how to make up for the money typically raised from application fees. Currently, Landward said, he’s looking at whether a $10 million leftover appropriation from the Utah Legislature can be used to cover this year, while developing a budget for the future.