SALT LAKE CITY (KUTV) — The board that oversees Utah’s public colleges and universities is changing the way it handles tuition hikes after state auditors found students could be paying too much with too little oversight.
On Monday, lawmakers on the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee were briefed on the October review by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General.
The Utah State Board of Regents conducts a “superficial review” of tuition increases and the “lack of analysis ... may lead to unnecessary tuition inflation,” the audit concluded.
“We were a little surprised that the oversight was lacking,” said Jesse Martinson, the supervising auditor. “We were shocked that tuition was not receiving any kind of oversight or any kind of review.”
One way that the board determines tuition hikes has been to go with a uniform number based on whichever school needs the most, according to the audit. For the current school year, that was Snow College — the smallest by enrollment.
“The institution with the largest percentage need becomes the baseline, and the other institutions receive more than they need to meet the legislative match,” the audit said.
The Board of Regents is already making changes, getting rid of the system-wide tuition increases.
“Instead, all tuition will be set based solely on specific needs of each college,” said Dave Buhler, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education, in a prepared statement. “This change is in effect for the 2019-2020 academic year. Every recommendation from the report has been, or will soon be, fully implemented.”
Buhler called college affordability “a top priority.”
Utah Valley University, University of Utah and Salt Lake Community College are the largest of the eight institutions under the board’s control, with the eight having a combined budget of $1.8 billion.
The audit found two universities have accounted for 87 percent of tuition increases in the past five years — $18.65 million for the University of Utah and $7.48 million for Utah State University.
Auditors found the board approved those increases without any independent analysis of the need.
“Nothing we found during the course of the audit suggests that the Commissioner’s staff were conducting independent analysis of institutions’ second-tier tuition needs,” the audit reads. “That was reinforced by statements from staff that they were not conducting their own independent analysis of the requests, or for that matter, any in-depth analysis of the institutions’ own analyses.”
The universities and colleges are now going through the process of setting tuition rates for the next academic year. The University of Utah told KUTV 2News it plans to ask for an increase, but the amount won’t be known until after the legislative session.
The university has a Truth in Tuition open house scheduled for March 19.
“We are committed to providing students with a high-quality education while keeping tuition affordable,” a university spokeswoman said in a statement. “Our students get to work alongside world-renowned faculty, have hands-on experiences and internships, and participate in transformative experiences designed to jump-start their careers. We are also working to increase scholarship offerings to help students offset the costs.
Full statement from Dave Buhler, Utah Commissioner of Higher Education:
“College affordability is a top priority for the Board of Regents. While Utah’s public colleges have the third-lowest tuition in the nation, we are committed to continually improving our processes to ensure the best value for Utah students. In November, the Board changed its tuition policies to do away with system-wide tuition increases. Instead, all tuition will be set based solely on specific needs of each college. This change is in effect for the 2019-2020 academic year. Every recommendation from the report has been, or will soon be, fully implemented. We appreciate the partnership with the Legislature and our shared concern about college affordability for Utah students.”