Watch a multimedia video about parent’s concerns about rising tuition costs.
Story and multimedia by ARMIN HAMZA
A college degree just keeps getting more difficult to get, and more expensive for the students and parents.
Parents are worried their child will not have the opportunity to go to college because of tuition hikes at all colleges and universities, which mean degrees will be followed by more debt. One of the reasons parents are worried is that the Legislature in Utah, which decides how much of the tuition load is paid from taxpayer money, has cut state school funding in recent years.
This year’s budget cutting, the third year of cuts that legislators blame on the recession, resulted in student tuition increases ranging from 5 to 11.8 percent at the various institutions. Still Utah tuition is reasonable when compared to other states. For example, last year South Carolina charged students $9,156, which is more than double the tuition students paid in Utah. Legislators must realize they are forcing some future students out of college, and that means a less educated workforce, something that will hurt the economy in the future.
“I am worried my child won’t be able to go to college because the way the tuition keeps rising, I don’t think I will be able to afford paying for him to get through school,” said Norma Rodriguez, parent of a sophomore student at West High School. “The recession hit us really hard so my son will have to find a way to pay for his education and now the tuition increase is not helping him.”
The cost of attending the University of Utah will go up another 7.8 percent next year under tuition hikes approved in March by the Utah Board of Regents, adding another $38 million to students’ share of running the state’s eight public colleges and universities.
According to higheredutah.org, tuition at Utah System of Higher Education institutions is approved in two tiers: Tier I tuition is an increase applied equally system wide to assist institutions in covering different needs related to all institutions. The second tier comes as a recommendation from institution presidents only after discussion with Boards of Trustees and student hearings, as a means of covering institutional priorities and initiatives. The State Board of Regents must also approve Tier II tuition.
Tuition has more than doubled over the past decade. For example, in 1990 the tuition at the University of Utah was $1,884 per year. Now the tuition for a whole year is $6,274. Rising costs could become an obstacle to the parents’ goal to send their children to college. Parents who are not able to pay for their children’s education will have to force them to work while they are going to school in order to be able to afford it.
“I have always told my son that I will help him pay for college, but I am not sure if I can do that now,” Rodriguez said. “It makes me sad that I won’t be able to help him.”
“We understand that reasonable increases are going to happen, but we want to see the Legislature make that investment,” said Phil Johnson, graduate student at the University of Utah. “As the increases continue year after year, it’s hard to justify that to parents of students, so it will definitely also limit the ability of the state to grow economically.”
While a university education is less costly here than in other states, Utah’s community college experience is not that cheap either. According to higheredutah.org, the taxpayers’ share of running the state’s colleges and universities has fallen from 75 to 58 percent in recent years, with tuition increases making up the difference in recent years. This is also not helping parents that want their child to go to community college first.
“We need to reverse that trend so that all of our institutions remain affordable, particularly at the community college level. We can’t continue to cover increasing costs with tuition hikes,” said Blake Carling, parent of a senior student at East High School. “I will suggest to my daughter to attend community college first because it is at least a little cheaper even though she has the grades to go to schools such as the University of Utah.”
According to higheredutah.org, University of Utah tuition will raise $423, or 7.8 percent, including required fees. Salt Lake Community College will see the smallest increase, totaling $120, or 5 percent.
Even with rising costs, Utah students graduate with the lowest amount of debt, about $13,000 on average, and have the lowest student loan default rates because most students have a job while they are going to school. The increasing cost of college is also forcing many students to postpone graduation so they can work and pay off the debt they own on education already. Another reason why students are forced to work is because they are not able to get help from their parents they used to get.
“If you increase tuition you’ll lose students,” Carling said. “We want more educated people because it benefits everyone.”
According to higheredutah.org, the rise in tuition does not go well for Utah’s 10-year higher education plan, which envisions growing college enrollments by more than 100,000 by 2020.
State wide, the average total tuition increase for an undergraduate Utah resident is about 7.5 percent, or $247 per semester, in annual tuition and fees for 15 credit hours. The increase for 12 credit hours will be $211 per semester. The average total increase for a non-resident in Utah will also be 7.5 percent, or $783 per semester.
“Since 2008, Utah’s colleges and universities have faced yearly budget cuts now totaling roughly 14 percent,” said William Sederburg, commissioner of higher education. “For years our institutions have had to consistently do more with less, now in order to protect access and quality it is necessary that some of the costs will have to be passed along to students in the form of higher tuition.”
Commissioner Sederburg believes, that tuition increases would have been much higher if the Legislature had approved an original 7 percent cut rather than the 2.5 percent they decided on earlier this month.
“State support for our colleges and universities has been steadily declining over recent years,” said David Jordan, Board of Regents Chair. “We need to reverse that trend so that all of our institutions remain affordable, particularly at the community college level. We can’t continue to cover increasing costs with tuition hikes.”