Higher education either got kissed or it was punched in the mouth by the 2004 Legislature.

"I think they should feel like they were treated well," said Rep. Brad Johnson, R-Aurora, co-chairman of the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. "I cannot think of a real minus."

Others can.

"One of the consequences of this Legislature is that tuition will go up," said Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell. "I tried to persuade legislators to let regents and trustees deal with tuition levels."

There was enough money for a 1 percent salary increase and bonus. Three capital improvement projects received funding to the tune of almost $30 million. Student aid programs received $1.5 million. Lawmakers also found $4.6 million for 770 students new to the system of higher education.

Johnson is also fond of a bill he ran, HB320, which mandates that Utah's nine public colleges and universities address problems with the transferability of credits between schools. The state, Johnson said, isn't keen on funding the same class twice for a student who transfers but is unable to receive credit for what may amount to the same class.

Other bills dealt with during the session awarded tuition waivers for purple heart recipients and tuition breaks for Job Corps students and members of the National Guard.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, requires colleges and universities to disclose to undergraduate students how much of their education is funded by tuition and fees, by the institutions themselves and by the state.

A resolution by Rep. Marda Dillree, R-Farmington, directs schools to streamline how remediation classes are offered, with the intent of reducing the state's funding obligations.

Legislators might have thought they were helping students by requiring the state Board of Regents to lower first-tier tuition to 3 percent from 4.5 percent. The result, however, Kendell said, is that presidents of Utah's nine public colleges and universities will have to raise second-tier tuition to the maximum allowed. That means the combined college tuition will go up, on average, about 10 percent.

"There won't be any savings to students, I can tell you that," Kendell said.

Still, he remained upbeat about the small victories, such as money for salary and benefit increases and for student financial aid. But there were plenty of financial caveats.

The Legislature provided $525,000 for a nursing initiative. But instead of regents deciding where the money will go, lawmakers took the lead, giving the University of Utah $150,000 of that money and nothing to Snow College.

There was $1 million for an engineering initiative. And some money was allocated for enrollment growth. But more than 10,000 students — totalling more than $43 million in costs — are still unfunded, and schools have had to pick up the tab by cutting staff and class offerings.

There were no funding cuts to the $565 million in state funds for higher education. But no new money was provided to cover certain unfunded costs.

"We're going to have to do some real scrambling to take care of operation and maintenance and fuel and power," Kendell said.

Especially hurt by the lack of funding in those areas will be Utah Valley State College, which was hoping for $1 million to fund operations at new facilities. UVSC got none of that request.

The University of Utah did not receive a dime of the $45 million it requested to renovate the Marriott Library. Like Kendell, U. officials were mixed in their assessment of the Legislature.

"This has been a really challenging session, about the most I've ever experienced," said U. assistant vice president for government relations Nancy Lyon. "There was money enough that there wouldn't need to be any cuts, but not enough money to do significant things."

"And yet, it seems like the legislators, especially the leadership, felt they needed to demonstrate that they've done something, and so they've really stirred things in a different way and created some policy shifts without any discussion."

In the 1980s, when there was a downturn in the economy, the state eventually made "good" on its unfunded obligations to higher education when things rebounded.

"There seems to be the feeling that, 'We don't want to do that anymore and don't come back here next year and bring these issues up again,' " Lyon said of the message she heard from legislators.


E-mail: sspeckman@desnews.com