It’s been proven time and again that those with a college education have a significantly higher earning potential, lower unemployment rates, and better health and well-being than those with only a high school diploma. Higher education also breaks the cycle of intergenerational poverty and reduces reliance on government assistance.
Utah’s affordable and high-quality public higher education system is crucial to the success of our state. Utahns must have the opportunity to earn an education beyond high school.
The Education Fund (comprised of state income tax funds) currently supports all state-funded education in Utah, including part of public higher education.
There is currently some discussion in the Legislature to change the Constitution of the State of Utah to prohibit higher education from being funded from Education Funds. In 1996, Utahns voted in favor of a constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to use the Education Fund for higher education. At the time, the General Fund (sales tax funds) had fewer demands than it does today. For instance, in the past 20 years the amount of General Funds going to help the state’s most needy citizens with health care through Medicaid has increased from 6% to 20%. Similarly, the needs of our growing state have required more funding for transportation beyond what was available from the gas tax.
Over the last ten years, the Legislature has used the Education Fund for anywhere from 30% to 90% of higher education’s state tax fund appropriation. The percentage of the Education Fund going to public higher education has fluctuated as the Legislature works to balance many state funding priorities. It is appropriate that the Legislature and Governor have this flexibility in addressing critical state needs, including education.
In 2015-16, 68% of the public funding for higher education came from the Education Fund, $580 million – less than 14% of the total Education Fund. The remainder of higher education’s budget is funded through the General Fund.
The success of Utah’s public K-12 education is a top concern for higher education. Public higher education leaders recognize the need for public funding for K-12 and recognize that eight out of ten Utah high school graduates who go on to college, attend one of Utah’s public higher ed institutions. It is crucial that all levels of public education be funded. It is important that the state’s education community be united, not divided.
Utah should be proud of its focus on keeping higher education affordable. Utah’s tuition rates for four-year public universities are the third lowest in the nation. That is made possible by the state’s commitment to all of public education, ultimately designed to help Utahns get the education and training needed for today’s workforce.
Yes, the education of Utah’s children is central to its future. But in order for that future to remain bright, children must have access to both quality K-12 and an affordable college education. The Board of Regents unanimously agrees that the Education Fund should be used to support all public education in our state, including both K-12 and higher education. The Board of Regents is hopeful that Utah’s Legislators will continue to agree.