SALT LAKE CITY — Utah college presidents, higher education leaders and institutional boards of trustees met with lawmakers Monday to make a case for legislative initiatives intended to enhance access to college and help make it more affordable for needy students.
The lunch, held in the Capitol rotunda, focused on two initiatives: the Utah College Advising Corps and the Access Utah Promise Scholarship Program.
The advising corps, presently headquartered at the University of Utah, helps high school students make successful transitions to higher education under the guidance of "near peer" advisers who work in high schools.
College advisers wearing buttons encouraging people to ask them about the program mingled in the room, answering questions.
Margarita Arteaga Alcantara, a college access adviser at West Jordan High School, said the advising program guides underrepresented college students with all aspects of going to college such as admission requirements, financial aid, scholarships and encouraging students to see themselves as college students.
"For me and my school, I feel like students really benefit from being able to identify with me ethnically and linguistically. So they feel comfortable speaking with me. Since I graduated (from high school) not that long ago, I can share my experience and they can feel a little bit more that college is realistic for them," she said.
Sharing a personal story "is really what has the biggest impact on them, especially if they're first generation and they don't have anyone who has been in college in their family in the past, they don't really know what to expect," said Arteaga Alcantara, a 2016 graduate of the University of Utah.
Kevin Enriquez, also a recent graduate of the U., works as a college adviser at Taylorsville High School. He said he wants to return to school to become a high school counselor, so working as an adviser helped steer him down a career path.
Enriquez was guided by a college access adviser when he attended West High School. "He really looked out for me. He knew exactly what I wanted to do and what major I wanted to get into. He even got me a scholarship to go to that school," he said.
"It really takes that one person to get to notice you and it goes on from there," he said.
Higher education officials asked the Utah Legislature for $6 million in ongoing funds to further expand the program, which started with a dozen advisers, but an appropriations subcommittee has recommended $3 million. The Utah System of Higher Education has a goal of scaling the advising program statewide by the 2021-22 school year.
Meanwhile, the Access Utah Promise Scholarship program, as proposed under HB260, would assist Utah students of limited means. They would pay no tuition or fees for four semesters to attend state colleges, universities and technical colleges. The scholarship would be limited to public institutions.
"Philosophically, I can't go there, using state tax dollars in private institutions," said the bill's sponsor, Rep. Derrin Owens, R-Fountain Green.
"It's state tax dollars, I think should stay in the state system."
The program is patterned after existing initiatives at Weber State University and Salt Lake Community College that cover costs of tuition and general student fees where federal financial aid falls short for low-income students who take full academic loads.
The access scholarship would extend the effort statewide. Owens sought $30 million in ongoing state support but the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee recommended $20 million.
Owens said he is optimistic of the bill's passage, which was unanimously supported by the House Education Committee and passed the Utah House on a 69-3 vote.