Tuition in Utah has increased by $132 million over the past 5 years

Oct 16, 2018, 2:18 PM
Tuition in Utah have been going up without justification. (Zimmytws / Shutterstock)...
Tuition in Utah have been going up without justification. (Zimmytws / Shutterstock)
(Zimmytws / Shutterstock)

College tuition prices in Utah have gone up by nearly $132 million over the past five years. And, according to an audit by the Office of the Utah Legislative Auditor General, our colleges aren’t even giving reasons for their tuition hikes.

The auditor general reviewed tuition increase requests filed by college presidents over the past five years. In every case, the audit claims, the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education could not provide records of a single independent validation for a tuition increase request.

Those $132 million in tuition increases, in other words, have been approved without the slightest explanation or justification.

“We can’t really tell where that money’s going, nor can we see how it was justified,” House Majority Leader Brad Wilson says.

KSL Newsradio’s Dave & Dujanovic spoke with Brad Wilson and the Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, David Buhler, too better understand what this means for Utah and how it’s going to be fixed.

How did tuition in Utah get so high?

File photo of Rep. Brad Wilson from Aug. 19, 2015, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Before tuition prices can go up at a college in Utah, the Council of Presidents meet and discuss their needs and the tuition increases they want to implement. Their requests are then passed on to the Utah State Board of Regents, who are expected to check their justification before approving their requests.

But over the last five years, according to the auditor’s report, that hasn’t been happening.

“The commissioner’s staff could not produce any independent validation of the institution’s tuition requests,” the report says. “Board of Regents do not participate in, or even attend, [Council of Presidents] meetings.”

The meetings where these tuition hikes are planned, Wilson says, are done completely behind closed doors, without any minutes written down or any information shared to the public.

That’s lead to some major problems. According to the audit, tuition increases in Utah have been almost three times what the legislative compensative match supports, and they’re being made at nearly identical rates regardless of a college’s actual needs.

“The regents have been raising tuition across the board at the same rate,” Rep. Wilson says.

Each college, Wilson says, has its own unique needs. Those uniform tuition hikes, Wilson seems to be implying, might be a sign that these colleges aren’t always looking at their needs before cranking up their prices.

“I have seen a lot of audits in the time I’ve been here,” Wilson says. “This is one of the worst.”

The path forward

Tuition in Utah

Utah State University, as seen from above. (Photo: Utah State University)

Though tuition in Utah has been rapidly rising without checking the college’s justifications, tuition in Utah remains the third-lowest in the nation.

Despite what the audit says, the increases, according to Dave Buhler, the Commissioner of Higher Education, haven’t been excessive.

“The tuition increases we’ve had have been the lowest since 2000,” Buhler told Dave & Dujanovic.

He says that the audit is more a criticism of the process of setting tuition prices in Utah than it is of the prices themselves. “They note in the audit,” Buhler says, “the amount of tuition increases over the past five years … may have been very much needed.”

Buhler says that the audit only criticized the process for looking into why a college was making an increase in the first place. He says that his team plans of following every one of its recommendations.

“We think their suggestions are good ones, and we’re going to be implementing them over the next six months,” Buhler told Dave & Dujanovic.

Rep. Wilson agreed that we can expect to see big changes in how tuition prices are set in Utah. He said that he’ll be “expecting a very different tuition hike approval process” in the future.

More to the story

If you missed Dave & Dujanovic live on KSL Newsradio, you can still catch their full conversation with Rep. Wilson and David Buhler on the Dave & Dujanovic podcast.

Dave & Dujanovic can be heard weekdays from 9 a.m. to noon on KSL Newsradio. Users can find the show on the KSL Newsradio website and app, as well as Apple Podcasts and Google Play.

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Tuition in Utah has increased by $132 million over the past 5 years