This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2016, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
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 currently supports all state-funded education in Utah, including public higher education.
Over the last 10 years, the Legislature has used the Education Fund for anywhere from 30 percent to 90 percent 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.
This year, 68 percent of the public funding for higher education came from the Education Fund, about $580 million (which is less than 14 percent of the total Education Fund).
Prior to the 1996 constitutional amendment allowing the Legislature to use the Education Fund for higher education, the General Fund had fewer demands than it does today. For instance, in the past 20 years the amount of General Funds going to help our most needy citizens with health care through Medicaid has increased from 6 percent to 20 percent. Similarly, the needs of our growing state have required more funding for transportation beyond what was available from the gas tax.
The success of Utah's public K-12 education is of deep concern to those of us in higher education. We support their need for public funding and recognize that eight out of 10 Utah high school graduates who go on to college attend one of Utah's public higher education institutions. We know how crucial it is that all levels of public education be funded. It is important that as an education community, we are united, not divided.
We agree there should be more funding for public K-12 education. However, it would be shortsighted if such an increase came by dramatically cutting public higher education.
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 our children is central to Utah's future. But in order for our children's futures to remain bright, they 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. We look forward to continuing to work with Legislators to address the funding needs of both public K-12 and public higher education in Utah.
Daniel W. Campbell is chair of the Utah State Board of Regents.