One way to cover the expected $20 million-plus shortfall in the higher education budget for fiscal year 2003 would be to increase out-of-pocket tuitions for some students by more than 16 percent.
That possible solution was broached Friday in a meeting of the Legislature's Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee, but it didn't set well with higher education officials — or with representatives of the students whose pocketbooks would be affected.
"We need to balance the budget, but don't do it on the backs of students," said Steve Palmer, Utah State University student body president, who also heads the coalition of all university and college student bodies.
He said such a dramatic increase would fall very unevenly on the state's college students. Students in Salt Lake City, for instance, have a much better chance of getting an adequate job to finance their education than students in smaller college communities, he said. He predicted that possibly 50 percent of potential students would be barred from higher education if the cost went up so steeply.
Cecelia Foxley, commissioner for higher education, also advised the subcommittee that it would be foolish to make "quick fixes that do damage in the long run."
The idea was one of several presented to the subcommittee by Boyd Garriott, legislative fiscal analyst assigned to the group. He presented figures that show Utah college students still enjoy tuitions that are below the average of Mountain West states.
For instance, the University of Utah tuition is just 89 percent of the average in the region. Utah's community colleges, on the other hand, tend to have tuitions higher than the comparison group. The highest, Utah Valley State College, charges considerably more than its peers.
Garriott acknowledged that the figures did not take into consideration Utah's relatively low per capita income or larger families, in which more than one student often is enrolled in college.
The 16 percent increase, if accepted by the subcommittee, would be leeway for colleges and universities in the nine-unit state system to use as "second-tier" increases. A 3 percent across-the-board tuition increase is being considered for this year for all of the institutions.
Other possible solutions to the funding dilemma included capping enrollments to control growth; charging students more for remedial classes and for post-baccalaureate classes, and lengthening the time that non-resident students must pay additional charges before gaining resident status.