Cost of college skyrockets due to low state funding

(Graphic by Autumn Mariano)

The Utah System of Higher Education recently submitted a budget proposal to the legislature that may cause tuition increases to decrease this coming year.

The budget proposal, Acute Equity, is based on the principle that Utah resident students should receive similar state support based on institutional mission and student type, regardless of what state institution they attend.

The idea behind the budget proposal is to have all educational institutions in the Utah System of Higher Education receive the same amount of state funding, which would be $4,800 per student after receiving the funding from the budget proposal.

“The concept of Acute Equity originated with the observation that the state has been paying a smaller and smaller fraction of the total cost of education,” said Charles Wight, Weber State University president.

The number of students enrolling at higher education institutions has increased by 14,800 students since 2003. However, the state of Utah has not increased the amount of enrollment growth funding given to those institutions since 2003.

According to Wight, tuition costs at WSU have been increasing for the past several years by 8-10 percent. However, students at WSU currently pay only approximately 40 percent of what other college students pay nationally.

Norm Tarbox, vice president of WSU Administrative Services, said he believes institutions like WSU, whose mission is primarily teaching and has rapidly increased its student body, have not received adequate funding from the state to do their job.

If the budget proposal were to pass, WSU would receive approximately $6.2 million. Wight’s plans for that money would include an expansion in need-based financial aid as part of the Dream Weber program, a reduction in the annual tuition increase, and funding for currently unfunded enrollment growth.

Other schools receiving funds are Dixie State University at approximately $4.5 million, Utah Valley University at approximately $29.4 million and Salt Lake Community College at approximately $21.7 million. The regional campuses of Utah State University would also receive approximately $7.8 million.

“We all know there is not enough money that the legislature has to fund all of this in its entirety,” said Brad Mortensen, vice president for WSU University Advancement. “However, we would get a proportion of whatever money is provided by the legislature towards the funding request.”

One of the problems with being an open-enrollment university is the high number of financial aid students WSU attracts compared to other universities.

Approximately 19,140 students were enrolled at WSU for the fall of 2013, not including concurrent enrollment, and 9,151 were on financial aid. Only 44 percent of all students during that semester were full-time students.

Over the past four semesters, the amount of students receiving financial aid has never dropped below 47.8 percent or been higher than 50.2 percent of all students.

Recently, there has been a big push from Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah System of Higher Education to have students take 15 credits per semester with the goal of 66 percent of citizens having attended a educational institution by the year 2020.

“It has been my experience talking with students . . . (that) many students, when it comes time to register for classes, do this in a backward way,” Wight said. “They should start with their class schedule and then try to find a way to work around that.”

Tarbox said he believes a student who can get through school in four years certainly has the upper hand in the job market, on potential earnings and longevity of their career.

Wight said WSU has good statistics on placing its graduates in full-time jobs.

“The money you could earn sooner by finishing sooner WAY more makes up for the extra loans you would have to take out,” he said.