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Changes to Utah’s higher education landscape could help inmates, future students

Education concept with open book in library.
Selling of Utah’s remaining student loan servicing arm could be used to create a nearly $300 million endowment.

Some potentially big changes are coming to the higher education landscape in Utah, which lawmakers were briefed on Tuesday in a Higher Education Appropriations Committee.

Perhaps the most significant is that Utah is officially getting out of the student loan business.

Last year, the Utah System of Higher Education announced it was selling off a portion of the state agency that owns and services student loans, the Utah Higher Education Assistance Agency or UHEAA. They voted earlier this month to sell off the rest of the holdings, which could net the state up to $289 million.

USHE officials pitched state lawmakers on using the money to create an endowment that could fund new opportunities for students. They estimated it would bring in about $12 million a year, based on average market returns.

“We would hope these revenues that are generated off the endowment can help us really specialize, whether it's [for] marginalized students or the adult learner, to be able to provide scholarships,” said Commissioner David Woolstenhulme.

The money could also go to things like high school advising and other student services.

UHEAA said the change won’t affect the terms of current or future borrowers’ loans, though they will have to be on the lookout for notices that their servicer has changed.

Another change that could have a big impact is a future bill streamlining education services for inmates.

Right now, the education opportunities vary by prison facility, whether inmates can get a high school diploma or take college courses or vocational training.

Rep. Lowry Snow, R-St. George, said one of his priorities next session is to combine the efforts of the state’s higher ed and corrections systems so inmates across the system have the same access.

“We're much better off spending our money educating these folks than to bring them back into the system to re-incarcerate, to house them there and start in some ways from scratch again,” he said.

The bill would also create a commission to oversee the change and track data on things like enrollment, completion and job placement.

Jon reports on quality of life issues, education and the economy
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