A former legislator pleaded with the state Board of Regents Friday to take the debate about limiting college student access out of the university boardrooms and halls of the state Capitol and into the streets.
Delta attorney Thorpe Waddingham urged the regents to give the public what he called a "crash course" on the dilemma facing higher education. That difficult dilemma is the choice between capping enrollment and turning away students or spreading fewer dollars over more students and diluting the quality of their education.Because lawmakers funded only 28 percent of the 1992-93 projected enrollment growth, Utah colleges and universities will cap enrollment for the first time this fall. Officials have estimated that they may have to turn away 2,459 students.
Calling himself "a concerned grandpa," Waddingham, who served as a Democratic state senator for 17 years, said he doesn't believe the public really understands the crisis that has descended upon higher education. Legislators and regents spout numbers about millions of dollars and thousands of students, but the citizens need to get information on a more personal level, he said.
"They need to know what this means to their children and grandchildren," Waddingham said.
In the past, he continued, higher education officials have maybe considered themselves above "getting a little dirty" in a fight for public opinion. "It is time, for the future of education, to roll up our sleeves and get a little dirty," he said.
Waddingham personally thinks Utah needs to raise taxes to guarantee access to a quality education for all students who want one.
But higher taxes for higher education is a choice the public must make, he said. "I believe the public, if given the facts, will make the right choice."
If, however, public opinion favors enrollment caps and a higher education for fewer students, Waddingham said he would accept it "with tears in my eyes and a heavy heart."
The regents applauded Waddingham's remarks. Regent Chairman Douglas Foxley thanked him, saying the regents themselves had been discussing these very issues. They took no action on his suggestions, however.
Waddingham's plea to the regents was delivered at their monthly meeting at Snow College, where he is a member of the Board of Trustees, the school's governing body.
His frustration has roots in that board's discussion about Snow's enrollment crunch.
In September, Snow will turn away 140 to 300 students because of the enrollment limit imposed by the regents. Because it has no admission deadline and no admission restrictions, acceptance at the two-year Snow is first come, first served.
"We're not comfortable with first come, first served," said Snow President Gerald Day.
An analysis of registration showed that Snow's first come, first served are young female students who will transfer to a four-year institution. Day said that means many of the students traditionally served by Snow - vocational education, at-risk, non-traditional, continuing education and males - could be squeezed out of the admission line. And many of those students come from the six-county area in central Utah where Snow is located, he said.
It is an area that traditionally has had unemployment double the statewide average and salaries 75 percent of the Utah average, he said.
Next year, without more enrollment funds, Snow will have to adopt measures to ensure these students have slots on Snow's enrollment rolls. "We can't leave it to chance," he said.
Possible measures are an admission deadline and a GPA/standardized test score index to screen applicants. They would be imposed on applicants who eventually intend to transfer from Snow to a four-year university, he said.
Day said he understands the frustration of Waddingham and others in rural Utah who see the possibility of the college admission door slamming shut on their children and grandchildren.
The future of agriculture, the backbone of rural Utah, is bleak and "their ticket to life is education. When you talk about turning away 300 students, 140 students or even 10 students, it means that somebody, who ought to have a ticket to life, won't have it," Day said.