Regents Want to Cap Enrollment

PRICE?To protect the quality of Utah’s colleges and universities, higher education officials discussed a financial plan that would cap enrollment at many schools at the state Board of Regents meeting on Friday.

Regents plan to discuss the proposal in greater detail in May, but three presidents of state institutions, including U President Bernie Machen, agree enthusiastically to the plan.

If approved, next year, instead of receiving state funding based entirely upon enrollment and growth, institutions would receive the amount of money they received this year, with a slight increase to compensate for inflation. The plan also calls for tuition revenue to stay at the school that collected it. Salt Lake Community College President Lynn Cundiff, Southern Utah University President Steven Bennion and a handful of Regents voiced their support of the plan.

But the proposed change would also limit enrollment at many schools?an idea that lawmakers are expected to oppose.

“The Legislature is only going to talk about access to schools, because they want to make sure their neighbors get in,” Regent Jerry Atkin said.

The current formula lawmakers follow is based primarily on enrollment. For the past two years, presidents of state schools have worried about recent significant growth, but accommodated more students with the intention that the growth would be funded by the state Legislature.

But schools received only partial compensation.

This year, enrollment at state schools jumped more than 8 percent on average.

“The quality does suffer,” Machen said. “It can’t help but suffer.”

Lack of quality hurts now especially in a year when re balancing the budget meant trimming nearly 5 percent from each college’s and university’s budget.

To save money, presidents admit they have slimmed student advising programs. Faculty members have also been asked to increase the number of classes they teach, and the number of students per class has also jumped. In many cases, instead of hiring tenure-track professors, colleges will hire adjunct instructors at a portion of the costs to save additional funding.

“Presidents have already tweaked these areas to make the money stretch farther, but these short cuts are eroding the quality of education at each institution,” said Daryl Barrett, who headed the group discussion.

“We have two choices, we either have to raise taxes or cap enrollment,” Machen said.

Regents and presidents admit next year it will be hard to pass such revolutionizing legislation because of the large number of positions up for re election this year.

“It is going to be hard to find a torch-bearer?someone to carry this through,” Atkin said.

But they hope they can do it.

“Something has to change, and until it does the quality of education will continue to diminish,” Machen said.

For four years, lawmakers, Regents and presidents have discussed formula funding without coming up with a formula everyone can agree on and the situation just got worse, Machen said.

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