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Higher education leaders marked their best year at the Utah Legislature since the recession hit, especially at Utah Valley University and other open-enrollment schools that will benefit from $50 million designed to equalize per-student funding across the state public system.

Overall, state money for colleges and universities grew by 11.2 percent, or $81.2 million, a large chunk of which will go to equity funding.

UVU now gets $2,997 in public money per student, the lowest amount in the state. Salt Lake Community College is a close second at $3,202. Compare that to the University of Utah's $6,744 per full-time student (though its research university status comes with costs).

The inequity became especially sharp during the recession as the state cut funding for public higher education even as new students flooded in, said UVU president Matthew Holland.

"The students and taxpayers of this valley were carrying a disproportionate share of the burden of higher education," Holland said. Students "don't have the same access to counselors or the number of faculty to teach upper-division classes."

The $50 million will be split between UVU, SLCC, Dixie State, Weber State and the regional campuses of Utah State University.

Lawmakers also approved:

• $7 million in distinctive mission funding to be split by the eight public colleges and universities.

• A salary bump of 1.25 percent for faculty and staff, with a 2.2 percent bump in benefit costs, equal to other state employees. Tuition money will pay a quarter of those employee costs.

• $57.4 million in state cash to replace an aging Weber State science lab building.

• Funding for classroom buildings at two Utah State University regional campuses — $19 million for USU Eastern, formerly the College of Eastern Utah, and $7.5 million for the Brigham City campus.

Twitter: @lwhitehurst