Sen. Valentine hopes to curtail higher ed cuts

By Isabella Bravo, Staff Writer

Utah Sen. John Valentine said he believes in the benefits of a good college education, which is making this legislative session difficult for him.

As the co-chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, Valentine, R-Orem, will have to make decisions regarding a 7.5 percent shortfall in this year’s remaining budget for higher education and a 15 percent decrease for next year.

But many Utahns, including U faculty and students, worry education budget cuts will negatively impact the quality of students’ education and their later performance in the workforce. Balancing budget demands and keeping high-quality education is what makes Valentine’s job complicated.

Patrick Reimherr, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah and a member of the Utah Student Association, spoke before the committee last week.

“Each institution offers a (unique) education,” Reimherr said. “Student services are essential to helping students complete their educations. We ask that the quality of our institutions is not diminished.”

Valentine, former president of the Utah Senate, said he has a constitutional responsibility to balance the higher education budget, although the committee has decided to let administrators make decisions on how to spend state funds. The subcommittee gave the president’s office of each institution a budget amount with instructions to figure out how to meet that budget number.

“We feel like the institutions know their budgets better,” Valentine said.

During the committee meeting Jan. 21, Valentine said he realized the full impact of the budget cuts.

“Utah State President (Stan) Albrecht said he is going to have to lay off 40 percent of his staff8212;not faculty, but staff,” he said.

This decrease came as a shock to Valentine and other members of the committee, because in recent years the subcommittee has always received increases in the budget.

“We really don’t have the money we would normally have in a good year. Every (legislator) is trying to protect their own, what they feel is the most important thing,” he said. “With higher education, we are the economic development tool for the state of Utah.”

Andrew Nelson, student body president of Salt Lake Community College, said college affordability is important because high school is not enough anymore for students to succeed in the workforce.

“Higher education is an investment with a great return for the future of our economy,” Nelson said at the meeting. “The main reason why students don’t continue in their higher education is because of their economic status. We need it to be affordable.”

Valentine expects that tuition increases could make up for at most one-third of the 7.5 percent shortfall.

“It’s the other two-thirds that we’ll be looking at over these next few weeks,” he said. “If the money is not there, (we’re asking) where are we going to get it from?”

The committee has not set dates for colleges and universities to make presentations on their budget needs, and U administrators have yet to present their budget decisions.

During next week’s Republican and Democratic caucuses, Valentine and the other 14 subcommittee members will try to decide if the individual parties want to increase taxes, tuition and fees or look at another option to make up for the budget cuts.

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