Less-than-stellar year for university funding

By By Jay Logan Rogers

By Jay Logan Rogers

The Utah State Legislature allocated an “average” amount of funding for higher education this year, in spite of a budget surplus, experts said. That means more funding will probably be needed from students.

“Higher education had a modest legislative session with regard to appropriations,” said Kim Wirthlin, U vice president for government relations.

“I would characterize it as only an average year for higher ed in a year when we had a very large overall state budget,” said Richard Kendell, commissioner of the State Board of Regents.

Kendell said that because the Legislature opted to raise some faculty salaries, the law requires that students’ tuition go up to help pay for the increase.

Wirthlin said the session’s biggest success for the U was the passage of the Utah Science And Technology Research (USTAR) initiative. The project was designed to make Utah a hub of cutting-edge research by creating new facilities and recruiting renowned faculty.

The Legislature’s USTAR bill granted $15 million in ongoing funds to university faculty recruitment, $50 million in one-time funds for the construction of new buildings and created a $100-million bonding authority, Wirthlin said.

Another high priority, an employee compensation increase of 3.5 percent for U faculty, was funded.

However, Wirthlin noted that some of the U administration’s other legislative priorities were not funded at all. These included mission-based priorities and “student success” grants designed to open more course sections and help students graduate quicker.

Legislators differed in their views of how effectively higher educational needs were addressed at a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum on March 2.

“We provided a significant amount of funds for higher education,” said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.

“We probably did an adequate job,” said Rep. Ralph Becker, D-Salt Lake City.

Rep. Pat Jones, D-Salt Lake City, said she did not think higher education fared as well as her colleagues on the panel indicated.

“Not enough funding was reserved for teacher retention,” Jones said.

Legislative decisions were reached on the following higher education-related bills and initiatives:

The Engineering Initiative asked for $2 million in ongoing funds and $1 million in one-time funds to increase faculty, infrastructure and student capacity at state engineering programs. It was granted less than half of the requested money. Only $500,000 in ongoing and $250,000 in one-time funds were allocated.

The Nursing Initiative requested $700,000 in ongoing funds for increasing the capacity of state nursing programs in order to reduce a nursing shortage. It received only $250,000 in ongoing funds but was granted $500,000 in one-time funding.

Senate Bill 75 passed both houses of the Legislature and funds the Utah Science And Technology Research (USTAR) initiative.

The Range Creek Canyon Archaeology Project received $50,000 of the $55,000 requested in ongoing funds for research and management and maintenance of research sites. The Legislature granted the entire $30,000 in one-time funds requested for the purchase of a field vehicle.

House Bill 7, designed to eliminate undocumented immigrants’ ability to secure in-state tuition, was defeated. It initially passed the House Education Committee, 9 to 5, but representatives opted to send it back to the Rules Committee, where it languished.

House Bill 119 passed both houses of the Legislature. It makes appointment to the board that governs Utah’s public institutions of higher education nonpartisan. In the past, the State Board of Regents was not allowed to have more than eight members of any political party. If the governor signs the bill, he will be able to exclusively appoint members of his own political party, if he chooses to do so.

House Bill 192 requires textbook companies to provide electronic copies of their materials for blind students. It passed both houses of the Legislature.

House Bill 232 allows those who have been serving out-of-state in the armed forces to immediately regain residency if they return directly to Utah after a tour of duty.

House Bill 273 would have made purchases of university textbooks free of sales taxes. It passed the House Taxation and Revenue Committee, but it ultimately failed because it did not come up for a vote on the House floor.

Senate Bill 174 grants in-state tuition to students who are members of the Utah National Guard. The bill was designed to cover those few students who live outside state borders but serve in the Utah Guard. It passed both the House and the Senate.

Senate Bill 212 would provide tuition waivers for disabled veterans and military personnel, and for the spouses and children of service members killed or disabled in action since 2002. It passed the Senate unanimously but failed because the House did not vote on it.