Less-than-stellar year for university funding

By By Jay Logan Rogers

By Jay Logan Rogers

The Utah State Legislature allocated only an “average” amount of funding for higher education this year, in spite of a budget surplus.

A tuition increase was the result of their reluctance to allocate money to the U.

“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 Utah 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, a salary increase of 3 percent for state-appointed faculty and staff, was funded.

Regents approved a 4 percent tuition increase for the U. A large portion of the increase in tuition revenue will be used toward the employee compensation. The rest will help cover a variety of needs at the university.

Wirthlin noted that some of the U administration’s 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.

“We provided a significant amount of funds for higher education,” said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem, at a Hinckley Institute of Politics forum on March 2.

“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. Lawmakers chose to allocate only $500,000 in ongoing and $700,000 in one-time funds to the project.

The Nursing Initiative requested $700,000 in ongoing funds for increasing the capacity of state nursing programs to reduce a nursing shortage. It received only $61,000 in ongoing funds and $122,000 in one-time funding.

The Range Creek Canyon Archaeology Project received $50,000 of the $55,000 requested in ongoing funds for research, 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 regents was not allowed to have more than eight members of any political party. The bill enables the governor to appoint only members of his own political party if he so chooses.

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

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 have provided tuition waivers for disabled veterans and military personnel as well as for the spouses and children of service members killed or disabled in action since 2002. The legislation passed the Senate unanimously but failed because the House did not vote on it.