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State funding is key ingredient to Utah’s efficient colleges and universities

Springtime in higher ed brings the excitement of commencements, graduations, and post-college adventures. In the next few weeks, over 30,000 USHE students will be awarded certificates and degrees, a major lifetime accomplishment that will prepare them for their future.

Less visibly, spring is also the time when state budgets across the country are adopted for the coming 1-2 years. Budget cuts to higher ed are certain in at least a dozen states (e.g. West Virginia, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Missouri, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Alaska, Iowa, Montana, Wyoming, Illinois and Wisconsin). The most notable cut is from New Mexico, whose Governor vetoed the entire higher education budget. This is a stark contrast to the collaboration between Utah’s state and higher education leaders in support of higher education. While the proportion of state funding for Utah colleges and universities has steadily declined over the past 10-15 years, state funding is relatively strong compared to many other states.

This year, USHE institutions received an overall 6.2% ongoing budget increase in state funding, helping support student growth as well as critical areas in workforce investment and high-demand programs. In 2016, the Legislature appropriated a 4.3% ongoing budget increase. While these recent increases are still below the national average, the state’s consistent commitment to funding higher education has helped get state funding per student finally back to pre-recession levels.

With the state’s financial support, USHE institutions are among the most efficient colleges and universities in the country: total revenues per student are the 45th lowest in the country, tuition and fees at USHE institutions are among lowest in the U.S, and USHE institutions produce graduates at a high rate.

Despite running lean, USHE institutions are innovative and collaborative. And they pass this love of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking on to their students, as evidenced by the fast-growing number of startup businesses seeded by Utah’s public colleges and universities such as the Lassonde Entrepreneur Institute at the University of Utah and the “One-Hundred Dollar Startup Challenge” at Utah State University.

Over 80% of Utah’s high school graduates enroll at Utah’s public colleges and universities, making continued state funding support a critical factor in controlling costs in future years. According to the 10-year plan adopted by the Board of Regents in 2016, higher ed funding needs to increase 9% annually to not only accommodate projected student growth, but also reach USHE-wide performance targets (including a 5% increase in operational efficiency). This is especially true since Utah’s increasing college enrollments in the coming years are an anomaly to national trends—many states are now dealing with declining college enrollments.