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Public, higher education programs facing cuts in funding from state

Staff reporter

The halls in the Reeves Building at College of Eastern Utah are traditionally rather empty during the summer. But CEU could become emptier throughout the year if the Utah Legislature implements major cuts in higher ed funding. The board of regents recently indicated that the cuts in state funding could total 4.75 percent to 9 percent. While the smaller percentage would be difficult for CEU, the larger reduction could eliminate programs offered at the college in Price.

The cuts in state funding that the public universities and colleges took last year were painful. But according to a number of state and local officials, next year's reductions could be worse.

"Since 1999, the number of students in our colleges and universities has increased twice as fast as the state funding to support those students," indicates Utah Board of Regents chairNolan Karras. "There is a limit to which our colleges and universities can absorb the combination of budget cuts and enrollment growth without seriously diminishing the quality of education."

People in higher education are no longer concerned, but many are scared what next year's budget will look like. The effects of further cuts could impact not only longterm higher education employees, but core programs at schools around the state.

People tend to be more concerned about a local college and the situation is no different in Carbon County, where College of Eastern Utah a cultural and learning hub as well as the second largest employer. In the spring, a number of maintenance employees were laid off because of cuts and a number of positions have disappeared by attrition. One was the debate team coach, which effectively eliminated the program from CEU's curriculum.

The regents put out a couple of formulas last week to demonstrate the problems that could arise with various kinds of state funding cuts.

A 4.75 percent or $27 million reduction would require an 11.2 percent increase in tuition paid by students or the elimination of 429 faculty and staff positions, resulting in 620 fewer classes offered statewide and impacting 3,150 full-time students. The reduction would, in turn, decrease the amount of tuition paid by $7 million, bringing the actual cut to $34 million or 6 percent of state funds.

In a second scenario, a 9 percent or $51.6 million cut in state funding would require a 21.3 percent increase in tuition costs or the elimination of about 950 faculty and staff positions. Eliminating the positions would result in 1,425 fewer classes and impact 7,080 full-time students. The loss in tuition would be $15.5 million for a total cut of $67.1 million or 11percent of state funding.

According to Utah Rep. Brad King, CEU vice president for institutional advancement and auxiliaries, the situation will probably be bleaker at the college in Price than for many institutions in the state.

"We already had that deficit to make up for," points out King, referring to a debit from several years ago the state is forcing the college to make up. "We consolidated or eliminated 24 positions in the last year alone. We have already cut $1.8 million out of a total $12 million budget."

According to King, the two scenarios developed by the board of regents are relative to what the Utah Legislature does with funding for public education in the state.

"If the Legislature decides to fully fund public education, with schools having to absorb no cuts, we will be looking at the 9 percent cut in higher education," stated King. "The other option comes into play if both have to share in the cuts. Either way will not be easy. But of course, 4.75 percent would be much easier than 9 percent."

The situation pits proponents for public education against individuals who support the colleges and universities. People who generally support both face a true dilemma. For higher education, solutions are not as simple as for public education when revenue reductions take place.

"In public education if a district loses a couple of kindergarten teachers, they take the number of kids and just divide them amongst the remaining kindergarten teachers," explained King. "That is not an easy thing to do, nor is it a good thing to do, but they have that ability. "

"In a college, particularly a small one, when a school has to cut a faculty position, often that person is a specialist or maybe even the only one that can teach that course." continued King. "In some cases, they may be the only one who runs a department. That represents the elimination of an entire program. That means students who came to a particular place to get an education in a particular subject are either left high and dry if they are already there or will not come to the school at all."

If programs are eliminated and students leave the campus, the school loses tuitition and money from the state based on full-time enrollment equivalents.

"If that happens, it can take six to eight years to catch back up if regular funding resumes to previous levels," said King.

Later in the current week, King will attend legislative committee meetings where lawmakers will hear suggestions from state analysts regarding cuts to state departments.

The board of regents will meet in July to consider what higher education will do if the situation arises.

The regents will consider the following options:

•Direct institutional presidents to continue cutting lower priority and duplicative programs for higher priority, high demand programs and services.

•Endorse a hiring freeze that has been implemented by some college and university presidents.

•Place a moratorium on the approval of new programs.

•Review the existing entrance requirements to make the most efficient use of capacity and encourage better preparedness on the part of students who want to attend a state higher education institution.

•Postpone several or all of the previously approved capital improvement projects on college and university campuses.

During the last couple of weeks, several state legislators have suggested that colleges and universities in Utah should eliminate or reduce the number of tuition waivers the schools award to students.

Last year, the state's colleges waived more than $20 million in tuition revenues for various reasons for nearly 19,000 students.

Waivers include everything from a percentage off of the regular tuition to full rides.

Many students depend on waivers in order to attend college.

The tuition waiver program started in the 1920s and took the place of a state funded financial aid program.

Presently, students who want financial aid without or beyond the waivers must apply through private sources or to the federal government.

The fear educators express is similar to the problems identified in connection with funding cuts.

Fewer students would be able to attend school, therefore full time equivalents will drop which reduces funding even more.

Many of the graduate programs in Utah could not survive without waivers and attracting out-of-state students would be more difficult.

The situation would be particularly hard on the schools like the University of Utah, where research is a mainstay.

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