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Strategic Budget Advisory Committee (SBAC)
Strategic Budget Advisory Committee

Higher Ed Officials Warn of Layoffs, Tuition Hikes

January 13, 2009

By Brian Maffly - The Salt Lake Tribune
Budgets ยป Cuts could worsen economic downturn

Utah lawmakers heard from a parade of university and college presidents Monday, warning that a proposed 15 percent budget cut will not only undermine the state's very ability to climb out of recession but also cost some 1,521 positions and hundreds of course offerings.

Every dollar invested in higher education, returns $7 in terms of research grants, workforce development and other economic drivers, Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg said.

"The reverse is also true. The cuts can lead the state on a downward spiral," he told the appropriations subcommittee that will make recommendations Jan. 21 on how deep the budget knife will cut.

On tap is a possible 7.5 percent slash in this year's funding, and another 15 percent next fiscal year, adding up to a $183 million bite out of Utah's 10-institution system of universities, colleges and a vocational school. About 81 percent of colleges' operation costs are associated with personnel, so faculty cuts are unavoidable, even in a best-case scenario. Likely impacts will include exorbitant tuition hikes and reduction in student services, such as academic advising, library hours and financial aid. Officials expect to lay out early-retirement offers to senior employees, delay renovation and maintenance projects, and avoid replacing aging equipment.

University of Utah officials said cuts will move "horizontally" across the state's flagship research institution's programs, as well as "vertically" into administration. They are concerned the cuts could disrupt the U.'s momentum and undermine its excellence.

"What happens if the nation gets the idea the wheels are coming off in Utah?" said David Pershing, senior vice president for academic affairs. "We can't stop teaching courses in the middle of the semester."

Utah State University President Stan Albrecht anticipates losing up to 600 positions and is considering disbanding an entire college, merging departments and declaring a "major financial crisis," which will give him flexibility to shed some tenure-track faculty.

"We can't eliminate faculty who are in the classroom without doing serious damage to our institution or our students," Albrecht said.

Already 600 courses statewide have been dumped, with many hundreds more on the block. However, schools cannot abandon academic programs without getting in trouble with accrediting agencies, warned President Ann Milner of Weber State University.

"You have an obligation to finish students already in the major," she said.