Bill to prevent higher education budgets from hemorrhaging

The highlight of this week is that SB51, substituted as SB51S01, unanimously passed the Senate. SB51, Higher Education Tuition Waivers, was proposed by Sen. Stephen Urquhart this legislative session in response to an expected drop in enrollment in Utah’s colleges and universities as a result of changes in the LDS mission program.

The LDS church recently lowered the eligible age of those who could serve a mission. As of now, men can go on a mission at the age of 18. So, a young man graduating from high school can now choose to go on a mission instead of attending a year of college. Also, the eligible age for women is now 19 instead of 21.

In the floor debate, Sen. Urquhart discussed how half of the revenue for higher education is obtained from student tuition. He said that Utah State University could lose up to 19 million dollars due to a decrease in student enrollment over the next two years. According to this bill, Utah would make a temporary provision for those missing funds by attracting bright out-of-state students and making them eligible for instate tuition with additional surcharges set by the Board of Regents.

The resident tuition rate in Utah is cheaper than the resident tuition rate in California. The same might be applicable to several other states. This could bring a pool of applicants from many different states and provide much needed support to Utah’s higher education system. In the debate, Urquhart said that educational institutions could also use outdoor tourism as a hook to get more students from all over the country. Utah is known for its outdoor recreational opportunities.

Currently there are many non-resident students attending our public universities who pay out-of-state tuition, even though many of them have lived as students in Utah for several years. It is unclear whether those students would be grandfathered into the new bill so that those who are already enrolled in Utah schools would be eligible for resident tuition rates.

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