About 150 college students and business and civic leaders from across the state lobbied legislators Friday to invest in Utah's public universities.
"Students here today can tell you the challenge we face: Enrollment growth hasn't been funded since 2002, tuition costs have exploded and student loan debt is off the charts," said Neela Pack, student body president at the University of Utah.
"We are here today to call for leadership and action to make education the state's first priority," she said.
The group wants two-thirds of Utah students to have a college degree or post-high school certificate by 2020.
Gov. Gary Herbert has proposed a 1 percent pay increase for public education and state workers, but not for higher education. Overall, Herbert's budget increases higher education spending by just $16 million.
Nolan Karras, a businessman and former Utah House speaker, is co-chairman of Education First and said his group plans to get involved in the political process, attending Republican and Democratic caucuses in the spring and supporting candidates who back education.