The State Board of Regents, in partnership with the Governor and state Legislature, have taken significant steps to maintain state funding for public higher education in Utah. Utah’s historical trend in state funding support for higher education is similar to the nation’s – relatively flat levels of state funding at a time of significant student growth. As with colleges and universities across the country, the result is an increased cost burden shifted to students.
However, compared with other states, legislative support and prudent fiscal management in Utah alleviated devastating disinvestments of higher education when state budgets contracted during the last recession. State funding support for higher education is a critical link to controlling costs for students in higher education.
Some key indicators presented to the Utah State Board of Regents in November 2014 illustrate the continuing funding challenge for higher education in Utah:
State funding for higher education is the same in 2013 as it was in 2003
When adjusted for inflation, state funding for higher education in Utah has changed less than one-half of one percent between 2003 and 2013:
In fact, the portion of the state’s budget appropriated to higher education during the same time period has remained between 11-13%:
Enrollments have surged
At the same time of relatively flat funding from state appropriations, student enrollments at USHE institutions have increased 26% during the same time period, the equivalent of the current student body at the University of Utah. That growth is projected to increase, current projections indicate USHE growth will exceed that same number of students by 2021.
USHE colleges and universities operate efficiently
Contrary to many national perceptions, Utah’s public colleges and universities are among the most efficient in the country. A solid measure of efficiency in any market is outputs. In higher education, degrees and awards are a central output of its services. USHE institutions award the 2nd highest number of degrees and awards per $100,000 spent in higher education (including both state funds and tuition). In other words, Utah is second in the nation in the lowest total dollars spent in higher education.
Students attending a USHE institution are getting one of the best deals in the country. Where the individual return on investment of a bachelor’s degree is a 60% increase in annual wages (compared with only a high school education), and the tax funds of Utahns devoted to higher education are among some of the lowest in the country, higher education provides one of the most significant contributions to the state’s economic growth and expansion.
Continued state support of higher education is critical to Utah’s economy
The legislature provided a tremendous increase in funding support for public higher education in 2014. It helped make some progress toward an issue that has become especially acute in the past 5 years. However, last year’s funding increase only partially addressed a system-wide issue, continued support is critical to help serve Utahns’ opportunities to upskill and become ready for an ever-changing workforce.
8 out of 10 Utah high school students, who go on to college, enroll at a USHE institution, those public colleges and universities are the keystone workforce training enterprise for the state. Continued state support for USHE’s role is critical to serving the state’s workforce and community needs.