2019 Legislative Update – Week 2

Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee

As noted last week, the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee (HEAS) was scheduled this past week to receive several reports, including the USHE Budget Priorities as adopted by the Board of Regents. Ruth Watkins, President at University of Utah, gave the first of the institution-based presentations to the Subcommittee. She touched on the performance and profile of students at the University and noted the critical role of research and the value of its health sciences to the state.

Commissioner Buhler briefly reviewed the history and impact of performance-based funding in USHE. Performance-based funding is a higher education funding model several states have adopted in various forms. The Utah Legislature has appropriated varying amounts of one-time and ongoing funds over the past 6 years against performance metrics that have evolved. Currently less than 1% of the overall higher education budget is funded through performance-based funding.

Along with performance-based funding, the Subcommittee spent considerable time reviewing various other metrics used by the Utah Legislature and the Board of Regents to measure higher education performance in Utah for various purposes. The Board of Regents has been working over the past several months to refine its systemwide metrics and goals in anticipation of developing a new long-term strategic plan.

Commissioner Buhler, joined by Board of Regents Vice Chair Nina Barnes and Associate Commissioner Kimberly Henrie, presented the USHE Budget Priorities as a lead up to the presentations by individual institutions scheduled February 13. The Budget Priorities are aligned to the strategic objectives established by the Regents’ Strategic Plan and include the priorities of the institutions. The presentation highlighted the complex dynamics of funding higher education funding sources from legislatively mandated items, related tuition funds, and the granularity beyond the general line items appropriated to institutions by the Legislature every year.

Budget discussions culminated with review of the Board’s top budget priority: Statewide College Access Advisors. If funded, this request will place a college access advisor in every Utah high school with the explicit purpose of helping students navigate the complexities of preparing, applying, and paying for college – especially those students from underserved populations. This initiative has significant support from several stakeholders:

  • Utah State Board of Education
  • Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce Policy Committee
  • Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce
  • Governor’s Education Excellence Commission
  • Ogden-Weber Chamber of Commerce
  • Utah State Superintendents Association
  • Utah School Counselors Association
  • Women in the Economy Commission
  • United Way Promise Partnership Regional Council

The Utah State Board of Education has also prioritized the initiative as one of its budget priorities, leading to an opportunity to present to the Public Education Appropriations Committee, as well as HEAS.

The Subcommittee also received an update on the Higher Education Strategic Planning Commission from its consultant, Mr. Brian Prescott, of the National Center for Higher Education Management. He reviewed the higher education governance landscape in Utah. His presentation was followed by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General with an audit report and recommendations on higher education governance. Governance of higher education in Utah has received increased attention and scrutiny in recent years, and these reports provide valuable contextual guidance as policy discussions continue in the coming year with the Commission.


Legislation of Interest

*HB 45, Higher Education Credit Amendments by Rep. Val Peterson, adopted by the Education Interim committee in October 2018, requires the Board of Regents to establish a plan for statewide prior learning (awarding of credit for prior learning, work-based skills, competency-based assessment, etc.). This “framework” supports the Regents’ priority to validate and ensure current statute and polices related to transfer of credit are being followed. Some of the plan’s requirements include: institutional plans for advising and communicating with USHE students and the public about credit for prior learning, how credit for prior learning is transferred between institutions, how it is transcripted, and institutional procedures for maintaining transparency and consistency. Each institution must report to the Board annually regarding the types of prior learning for which credit is provided and the total amount of credit for prior learning the institution awards. The bill received unanimous support of the Senate Education Standing Committee and awaits consideration by the full Senate.

HB 146, Concurrent Enrollment Amendments by Rep. Susan Pulsipher, modifies the eligibility requirements to enroll in concurrent enrollment courses in Utah from only 11-12 grade students to all grades in high school (grades 9-12). Over 36,000 students participated in concurrent enrollment courses last year, saving them over $48.7 million in future tuition expenses. Some institutions have raised concerns these changes would outstretch available resources to keep up with increased demand for college-level courses in high school. There is also a concern that many students in grades 9-10 are not prepared to tackle college courses. Exceptions for those students who are prepared are already allowed in current policy. The bill passed the House Education Committee with unanimous support.

*HB 188, T.H. Bell Program Amendments by Rep. Lowry Snow, proposes to transition the T.H. Bell Teaching Incentive Loan Program into a scholarship with a goal to increase the number of students entering education-related college programs. The Utah Council of Education Deans (comprised of deans who oversee teacher preparation programs in Utah’s colleges and universities) has worked closely with Rep. Snow over the interim and has endorsed the legislation. The bill awaits its first committee hearing.

**HB 158, Higher Education Student Speech Rights by Rep. Kim Coleman, establishes a specific threshold that determines when student-on-student speech becomes harassment as opposed to protected speech. It may put schools in conflict with existing federal guidance and definitions of harassment. The bill also protects belief-based student groups, allowing them to condition group membership on accepting and supporting closely held belief. Schools would be prohibited from discriminating against belief-based groups by either denying the groups official recognition and funding or by requiring the groups to maintain open membership. These provisions present possible situations in which a formally recognized school group could discriminate against certain protected classes. The bill failed to received enough votes to pass the House Judiciary Committee.

*HB 260, Access Utah Promise Scholarship by Rep. Derrin Owens, creates a statewide scholarship program patterned after Dream Weber and SLCC Promise. These innovative programs, which pay the remaining college costs for qualifying students when federal grants fall short, are showing compelling results: Dream Weber students graduate college at significantly higher rates than non-Dream Weber students at Weber State University (73 percent to 44 percent, respectively). The scholarship would be available not only for students right out of high school, but adult learners as well at both USHE and UTECH institutions. This program, if funded, could be major step to help individuals break the bleak cycle of intergenerational poverty in Utah. This bill is scheduled to be heard in the House Education Committee Monday afternoon.

*SB 102, Higher Education Capital Facilities by Sen. Ann Millner, would create capital development project funds for state colleges and universities and another for technical colleges. It would also establish criteria for project funding. Currently, colleges and universities submit building proposals to the Utah Board of Regents. The Regents prioritize the requests, and their list is proposed to the State Building Board, then to Legislature’s Infrastructure and General Government Appropriations Subcommittee, and ultimately to the full legislature. The goal of SB 102 is to appropriate colleges and universities funding for cost-effective building planning and design, while maintaining oversight for final approval of state funded construction. SB 102 moved to the full Senate for further consideration.


* USHE has taken an official position in support; ** USHE has taken an official position in opposition. For more information on legislation, committee agendas, or to view or listen to floor debates, see: http://le.utah.gov/