2015 Legislative Summary


In preparation for the 2015 Legislative Session, the Board of Regents established a multi-layered budget strategy to continue addressing the most critical needs of USHE institutions as well as prioritize STEM needs in capital development. The Board, with the support of institutional presidents, prioritized merit-based compensation increases, continued support for Mission Based Funding, expanded graduate programs at the University of Utah and Utah State University, and Performance Funding as a permanent model to improve common outputs and transparency of state funding for higher education. To achieve the statewide 66% by 2020 goal, supported by the Governor and the Legislature, continued expanded investment in higher education by the state was needed to continue the progress of previous legislative sessions.

2015-2016 Budget

The Legislature had significant new revenues available with an increase of $389 million in ongoing funds and $250 million in one-time funds. Most of these new revenues were in education funds (income tax). While these projected revenues were the highest since the recession years of 2009-2011, there were also significant budgetary measures the Legislature considered during the 2015 session including Medicaid expansion, prison relocation, criminal justice reform, school district equalization, and adjustments to the state’s fuel tax.

2015-16 new appropriations amount to an ongoing USHE operating budget increase of 4.9%, with the total increase of 5.6% (including one-time funds). While this is less than last year’s historic 11.8% increase, with a large portion comprised of one-time funds, it is higher than the 10-year average of 4.6% (including the double-digit budget cuts during 2009-11). It falls short of the projected annual 9% operating budget increase to meet the 66% by 2020 goal.

Compensation and Graduate Programs

The Legislature appropriated a 2% increase in compensation and fully funded the requested 5% increase in health and dental benefit costs. This increase was lower than the requested 3% increase. No new funding was appropriated to Mission Based Funding (Student Participation and Distinctive Mission). $4 million in ongoing funds was appropriated for research and graduate programs at the University of Utah and Utah State University.

Performance Funding

Some combined ongoing and one-time funds were also appropriated for Performance Funding: $7 million one-time and $2 million ongoing was approved for performance funding. While the Legislature did not formally adopt the funding model approved by USHE presidents and the Board of Regents, legislation was approved placing performance funding into state statute.  Specifically, the board must develop performance funding based on the following metrics:

  • Degrees and certificates granted
  • Services provided to traditionally under-served populations
  • Responsiveness to workforce needs
  • Institutional efficiency
  • Graduate research metrics (for research universities only)

The legislation received near unanimous approval in both the House and Senate and takes effect at the beginning of the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Other appropriations include combined ongoing and one-time funding for continued double-digit percentage growth to the Regents’ Scholarship ($500,000, $2.5million, respectively), enough to fund the full award amounts in 2016. $3.5 million ongoing and $1 million one-time funds were approved for the Engineering and Computer Science Initiative. $1,925,000 ongoing funds were appropriated to support the anticipated impact of a Math Initiative focusing on demonstrated competencies (S.B 196, sponsored by Sen. Ann Millner).

Despite the budgetary challenges, the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee formally voted to support all of the budget priorities of the Board of Regents, with much-appreciated advocacy from the committee Co-Chairs, Representative Keith Grover and Senator Stephen Urquhart, on behalf of USHE to legislative leadership.

Capital Budget

It was a successful year for capital development and improvements. Funding for three of the Regents’ top capital development priorities were approved by the legislature: $19,937,000 for the New Science Building at Snow College, $34 million for the Crocker Science Center at the University of Utah, and $10 million for a Clinical Services Building at Utah State University. The Legislature also approved future operations and maintenance for these project as well some non-state funded projects. Design/planning funds were appropriated for the CTE Learning Resource & Classroom Building at Salt Lake Community College.

LegislatureLegislation Summary

There were dozens of legislative proposals directly impacting USHE in several areas including college counseling, college math, privately funded scholarships, undocumented students, human resource management, procurement, student safety, career and technical education, occupational licensing, and data management. Below is a summary of several pieces of legislation impacting higher education in Utah:

Approved Legislation

  • HB 68 (4th Sub.), Student Privacy Study by Rep. Jacob Anderegg, requires protection of student privacy and allows a student or the student’s parent to authorize the collection and release of certain student data. The bill underwent several revisions to address concerns including those impacting higher education and its ability to share and use data to benefit students and policy makers.
  • HB 123, Tuition and Fees Assistance for Utah National Guard Members* by Rep. Val Peterson, expands the allowable tuition assistance for a Utah National Guard member to include fees.
  • HB 198, Strengthening College and Career Readiness* by Rep. Patrice Arent, creates the Strengthening College and Career Readiness Program to improve students’ college and career readiness through enhancing the skill level of school counselors for college and career counseling.
  • HB 233, Military Education Amendments* by Rep. Curt Oda, aligns state law with recent federal law changes requiring in-state tuition to be provided to veterans and other eligible individuals, ensuring higher education institutions in Utah are eligible to award United States GI bill benefits.
  • HB 314 (1st Sub.), Money Management Act Amendments by Rep. Rich Cunningham, modifies provisions relating to authorized deposits or investments of public funds including those managed by USHE institutions, establishing a 10-year term limit on future investments and a transition process on investments that were previously authorized.
  • HB 337, Career and Technical Education Comprehensive Study by Rep. Rich Cunningham, creates a Career and Technical Education (CTE) Board, and directs the Board to conduct a comprehensive study, which includes: an inventory of all CTE programs in Utah; the amount of funding dedicated to the program; the number of CTE certificates issued since 2010; employment information for students, and the extent to which overlap or duplication exists between the program and other CTE programs.
  • HB 409, Amendments to the Procurement Code* by Rep. V. Lowry Snow, changes to the state procurement code that allows institutional procurement officers to make more direct decisions and have direct accountability of purchasing action. The bill also allows exemptions for individual financial advisors associated with an organization’s contracted financial retirement manager.
  • HR 5, House Resolution Regarding Mathematics Proficiency among High School Students* by Rep. Steve Eliason, expresses support for a requirement that a Utah high school student pass a math course all four years of high school unless the student demonstrates math proficiency.
  • SB 64 (2nd Substitute), Utah Educational Savings Plan Amendments* by Sen. Todd Weiler, modifies tax credit provisions related to the Utah Educational Savings Plan to allow for a portion of an individual income tax refund to be contributed to a qualifying Utah Educational Savings Plan. The bill also makes some technical changes.
  • SB 65, In-state Tuition for Families of Fallen Public Safety Officers Amendments by Sen. Curt Bramble, modifies current statute providing tuition waivers for a surviving family member of a police officer or firefighter killed in the line of duty to include fees and eliminates considerations of financial need of potential waiver recipients.
  • SB 175, School Safety and Crisis Line by Sen. Daniel Thatcher, establishes a statewide school safety and crisis line in partnership with the University Neuropsychiatric Institute at the University of Utah to anonymously receive reports of criminal activities, incidents of bullying, criminal activity, abuse, suicide prevention, and crisis intervention.
  • SB 196, Math Competency Initiative by Sen. Ann Millner, designates several pathways for high school students to demonstrate quantitative literacy before graduation. Students who plan to attend college will have to show math competency at a college-entry level. The bill also requires the Board of Regents to develop ways for students to earn college credit as they fulfill math requirements in high school and to expand concurrent enrollment.
  • SB 232, Higher Education Performance Funding* by Sen. Stephen Urquhart, is companion legislation to the funding priorities established by the Board of Regents. The bill directs the Board to establish performance funding for higher education institutions. It also requires the Board of Regents and USHE institutions to annually report to the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee on the use of performance funding.
  • SB 253, Exceptions for Privately Funded Scholarships by Sen. Scott Jenkins, modifies provisions related to verification requirements for receipt of state, local, or federal public benefits. Highlighted Provisions: This bill exempts certain publicly funded scholarships from verification requirements and makes technical changes.

Failed legislation

  • HB 210 (1st Sub.), Early College High Schools* by Rep. Val Peterson, distinguishes an early college high school from a regularly authorized charter school. Utah’s early college high schools operate in partnership with seven USHE institutions.
  • HB 257, Educator Licensing Amendments** by Rep. Norm Thurston, modifies provisions relating to educational personnel preparation programs. It restricts the State Board of Education to only recognize education programs that are accredited by the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP) of which only one USHE institution is accredited.
  • SB 219, World Language Proficiency Recognition by Sen. Howard Stephenson, attempted to modify the Regents’ Scholarship to match a proposed requirement in world language proficiency for high school students. Passage of the bill would have lowered the foreign language requirement for the Regents’ Scholarship, misaligning state statute with the college readiness objectives of the Regents’ Scholarship.
  • SB 273, Higher Education Tax Credits by Sen. Jim Dabakis, would have enacted a nonrefundable tax credit for certain parents whose adjusted gross income is less than 200% of the federal poverty guideline for certain higher education costs, and provides that the tax credit is subject to apportionment.
  • HB 344, Longitudinal Data Center Management Act by Rep. Jacob Anderegg, modifies the Utah Data Alliance by establishing the State Longitudinal Data Center. The bill establishes the position of state longitudinal data coordinator within the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget, and defines procedures for government entities to access educational longitudinal data.
  • SCR 5, Concurrent Resolution Regarding Western Governors University, by Sen. Wayne Harper would have established Western Governors University of Utah, strongly urging USHE to equally include WGU in all its promotional efforts of USHE institutions. It also encouraged USHE to “eliminate unnecessary barriers to the delivery” of programs at WGU.

Thank You The Commissioner’s Office expresses gratitude for the efforts of our legislators and the public service they provide, especially their support of public higher education in Utah.  Our thanks for the cooperation and coordination among the institutional Presidents and their legislative liaisons. In addition, appreciation for the critical advocacy from members of the Board of Regents as well as support of the Governor’s Office, Prosperity 2020 and Education First.

* USHE took an official position in support | ** USHE took an official position in opposition


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