By Jordan Ormond
A Utah legislator is researching the impact of charging college students more money if they attend school longer than the state deems necessary.
According to Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-Salt Lake City, such a proposal would aim to stop students from using state subsidies to drag out their education by implementing a tuition voucher — or a specification of how many credit hours the state will fund.
“We want to support students who go to school and help them to get a degree,” Bigelow said. “But there”s a feeling that some students may abuse that, in the sense that they expect that they can change majors and keep going to school as long as they want … and the state will continue to subsidize that.”
Bigelow said he hopes to make the tuition voucher program a bill for the 2005 legislative session.
According to Joyce Kinkade, vice provost at Utah State University, the Utah State Board of Regents has had a similar program in place since 1997.
Kinkade said according to principle, when students earn more than 180 credit hours, they are charged extra.
On average, the state pays 70 percent of a student”s education and the student”s own tuition makes up the remaining 30 percent, Bigelow said.
The institution of the voucher legislation could help the state fund the education of students who would not otherwise have the same opportunity, Bigelow said. He calls the program an attempt to be efficient with the use of state funds.
“If a student wants to go and get additional education, or start their education over … and change majors and have to spend a lot of extra time, that”s fine,” he said. “But I don”t know that the state should be responsible for funding that.”
In contrast, Kinkade said she doesn”t think programs like this free up state education funds.
“There are so few students who qualify [that] it”s a fairly minimal amount that is saved,” she said.
Kinkade said Utah State hasn”t been able to enact the Board of Regent”s policy because no one has hit the credit limit.
Instead, Kinkade said the university offers incentives to students who graduate on time.
“We use more of a carrot approach than a stick,” she said.
Bigelow said the tuition voucher idea has been extensively researched, but work still needs to be done to determine how and if it would work.
According to Bigelow, if the state did enact such a law, private institutions like BYU would not be subject to the regulation.
“The state doesn”t provide any funds to Brigham Young University, so it wouldn”t affect them,” he said.
Paul Behrmann, BYU director of University Budgets, said BYU has nothing like the proposed legislation in place.
“There is obviously a higher tuition that is charged depending on how many hours a student has earned,” Behrmann said. “If it puts them up into the graduate level they would be charged a higher tuition, but other than that … there isn”t anything in place right now that would charge a higher tuition for [so-called] ”professional students.””
Behrmann said when the university goes through its annual budgeting process, budgeting officials look at tuition and determine what it needs to be to keep a balance in the funding The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints provides and the amount students pay. Sometimes that includes a tuition increase.
For now, Bigelow”s proposal remains just that — a proposal. However, Bigelow said he is planning for more research and discussion through the summer.
“There are a number of aspects to this that need to be worked through and if done in haste will not give us a good result,” he said.