Utah regents’ task force takes on defining college affordability with a March deadline

Utah regents’ task force takes on defining college affordability with a March deadline

(Jeffrey D. Allred, KSL, File)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Responding to Utah Gov. Gary Herbert’s call for a tuition freeze at public colleges and universities until the Utah System of Higher Education defines affordability, a board of regents committee has appointed a task force to complete that work with an ambitious March deadline.

“We want to be responsive to the governor,” Regent Wilford Clyde, chairman of board’s finance and facilities committee, said on Friday.

David Woolstenhulme, interim commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education, said the system is working on a two-prong approach, an immediate strategy to set the framework for upcoming tuition deliberations normally conducted in the spring, and a long-term strategy to guide the system and its governing body for years to come.

“The good thing is, there’s been a lot of work done up to this point so it’s not like hurry up and jump through hoops,” said Woolstenhulme.

The task force will include members of the board’s finance and facilities committee, two other regents, three college and university presidents, representatives of the Utah System of Technical Colleges and a member of legislative staff among others.

According to regents documents, the board regularly reviews tuition increases and institutional finances for affordability. Moreover, affordable participation has been one of the board’s three strategic priorities since 2015. However, it has yet to adopt a formal, specific definition of affordability for the system of state colleges and universities.

The full board of regents heard a presentation on the results of a study on tuition, state aid and affordability conducted by the University of Utah’s Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.

“We feel we’re in a really good spot for that task force to take that information and get to that starting point,” Woolstenhulme said.

According to the report’s summary, Utah ranks seventh out of the 15 Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education states for lowest tuition and fees. The group includes 15 Western states and U.S. Pacific territories.

Since the 2008-09 academic year, net price of tuition and fees has decreased in Utah by 13.7% because of the amount of aid received by new students.

The report also states that for the 2016-17 academic year, approximately 50% of Utah undergraduates at four-year colleges and universities received grant aid.

Juliette Tennert, the Gardner Institute’s director of economics and public policy, said the issue of college affordability is subjective and based on multiple factors unique to every students.

Living circumstances make a significant difference in affordability. College is significantly more affordable for a student who lives at home with his or her parents, less so if they live on campus. By three different measures, living off campus but not with family is the least affordable.

“College affordability is not simply tied to rising tuition and fees or as a ratio of price to income. Rather, measuring the relationship between a student’s assets and the cost of college via methodologies used in the Rule of 10 and the expected family contribution provides a baseline for the price a student might be reasonably able to afford,” the report states.

The Rule of 10 suggests that students should pay no more than the savings generated from saving 10% of discretionary income for 10 years and the earnings from working 10 hours per week while enrolled in school.

The Rule of 10 was developed by Lumina Foundation. According to its website, Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis “committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all.”

A return-on-investment calculation also provides a sense of the expected lifetime value of a degree.

“However, these methodologies do not address an individual’s ability to pay for postsecondary education. A holistic approach to address cost, ability to pay, and the expected value of a college degree is a more accurate measure,” the report states.

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