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Utah universities and colleges raise tuition and fees, citing faculty and staff retention

The campuses of Utah State University in Logan, University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.
Brian Albers
The campuses of Utah State University in Logan, University of Utah in Salt Lake City and Utah Valley University in Orem, Utah.

The Utah Board of Higher Education voted Thursday to raise student costs at all eight public colleges and universities.

The increases range from $471 for in-state undergraduates at the University of Utah to $44 at Southern Utah University. Following the U, Utah Valley University and Utah State University had the highest dollar increases at $260 and $250, respectively.

Several schools also requested additional increases for specific programs, such as USU’s business school and the U’s colleges of science and engineering.

Utah System of Higher Education Commissioner Dave Woolstenhulme said degree-granting institutions had to match employee salary and benefits requirements from the state Legislature. He noted lawmakers gave institutions 75% of the funding they would need to raise staff and faculty salaries by 5.75%, though the remaining portion would be left to schools to cover.

The state’s eight technical colleges did not request tuition increases because they received the full amount of funding needed, he said.

College leaders also noted that inflation and increased competition from the private sector were driving the need to raise student costs.

“When our students are asking for more student services, quite honestly, we're not providing them because we cannot find employees,” said University of Utah President Taylor Randall. “And a lot of that right now, we believe, is the salary pressures that we're feeling from industry.”

Board member Aaron Osmond said he could not support tuition increases since students are facing those same inflationary pressures. He also pointed to the Legislature approving a “historic” level of new higher education funding this year.

“I'm really concerned for the students,” Osmond said. “I have several kids of my own that are students in the system right now and what they describe from a financial burden perspective, it's really tough. For us to increase tuition from my personal perspective is irresponsible at this particular time.”

He did, however, support increasing student fees, as those were “student vetted.” Many schools said student fee increases were largely driven by the students themselves, who were requesting more services.

Southern Utah University, for example, requested a $64 fee increase to reestablish a health clinic it had dissolved several years ago and a $10 increase for mental health support. Officials said both came from student requests, who typically have to wait about six weeks to see a mental health specialist.

Those proposals prompted a lengthy debate about how institutions raise student costs and whether they should be part of tuition versus additional fees. The Utah Board of Higher Education reviewed the difference in 2020 and later moved about 12% of fees to tuition.

Utah colleges have been criticized by the state auditor multiple times for how they account for fees, though. The most recent audit found charges were often not tracked properly, generated excess revenue and did not provide proportional benefits to students.

Still, student body presidents at all schools except for the University of Utah spoke in support of the increased costs, particularly fees, which they agreed were needed to bolster student services and compensate staff.

Lucas Stevens, USU’s student body president, said student fees are more transparent than tuition, as they are outlined on the school’s website and students can see what they are used for.

“It's very digestible for students,” he said. “It's not as convoluted as tuition.”

The new costs will go into effect for the 2022-23 academic year.

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