Legislature finalizes higher ed. funding

By Rochelle McConkie

With one day left for the 2008 State Legislative Session, lawmakers are finalizing funding for higher education, making decisions to pay for things such as academic advising or online course expansion, increasing faculty compensation or giving universities the OK to proceed with non-state funded building projects.

Senate Bill 103: Higher education enhancements

Senators gave Sen. Dennis Stowell, R-Parowan, the final sign of approval on Tuesday for his bill allocating more than $20 million in ongoing funding to all state colleges and universities.

The money would be used to improve student retention and graduation rates, advance math and science fields, improve faculty quality, promote regional economic development and fund other priorities as determined by each school. The Utah System of Higher Education set forth all the priorities, and the State Board of Regents approved them.

Under the provisions of the bill, the U would receive $4.5 million to fund programs such as Honors and LEAP, add more advisers, create more online courses, enhance minority student counseling and mentoring and increase international programs such as study abroad.

Money would also go toward improving instructional science labs and hiring more science faculty.

The U would use funds to enlarge partnerships with K-12 schools and put $500,000 toward creating an urban planning center in the College of Architecture and Planning.

The bill passed unanimously and must now be signed by Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. to become law.

House Bill 4: State agency and higher education compensation amendments

On Monday, the House passed a bill that determines compensation increases for state employees and faculty and staff in higher education.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, provides for a 3 percent compensation increase for all university employees and 2 percent cost of living increase contingent on changes in health plans.

The bill provides funding for a 9.9 percent increase in premiums for higher education employee health benefits.

U Vice President for Government Relations Kim Wirthlin said the U hoped for a compensation increase of 3 to 5 percent.

“We want as much of an increase as we can get,” Wirthlin said. “With the revenue much shorter than we thought it would be, we’re glad to have a 3 percent increase.”

The bill passed in the House 70 to 1, and the Senate must now approve it.

House Bill 5: Revenue bond, capital facility and property acquisition authorization

On Monday, the House passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, approving non-state funded building projects for universities that will be paid for with fees, private donations and grants.

“This is just a rubber stamp,” Wirthlin said. “(Legislators) look at if we have the ability to fund it, and we do.”

The U had three main projects approved in the bill. The first is $90 million to build another 50-bed clinical cancer research hospital adjacent to the Huntsman Cancer Hospital on the north side. The hospital will be paid for through private donations and revenue.

Legislators also approved the Board of Regents to issue a bond of more than $21 million to the U to build a parking structure in the northwest section of campus. Wirthlin said the bond will be paid off with parking fees.

The bill also approves the U to use clinical fees and donations to expand the University Neuropsychiatric Institute in Research Park. The cost of the expansion was not available.

The House passed HB 5 with a vote of 72 to 1 and referred it to the Senate.

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