That was the message shared by Dr. Richard Kendell with the Bountiful Exchange Club here last week.
Kendell, a Bountiful resident who serves as the commissioner of the state's higher education system, said the state needs an increasingly educated populace to build the state's economy, but increasing costs for education may stifle the effort. "It's an issue the state really hasn't confronted yet," he said.
While tuition in Utah still remains lower than the national average, it has increased at state institutions by 50 percent since 1998, Kendell told club members at their breakfast meeting, and he believes the state is eventually going to have to come up with more funding for higher education, or risk the state losing jobs and economic development to places like Boston, North Carolina or San Diego, where vast resources have been earmarked for research and development of the high-tech job market. He said in San Diego alone, there are some 14,000 bio-med businesses tied to the University of California at San Diego.
He offered several comparisons of tuition rates. For flagship institutions, which in Utah includes the University of Utah and Utah State University, tuition was $2,770 in 1998 and averaged $3,890 for the rest of the nation. By 2003, that rose to $3,646 in Utah, and $5,218 nationally.
The same figures, offered for comprehensive colleges such as Weber State University, tuition was $2,042 in Utah and an average of $3,025 nationally in 1998. By 2003, it was $2,632 in Utah, and $4,169 nationally.
And at the community college level, the 1998 tuition was $1,478 in Utah, compared to $1,638 nationally. By 2003, it had risen to $1,806 in Utah and $2,155 nationally.
The number of students in Utah attending college will also increase exponentially. Currently, there are just under 115,000 students in the state's higher education system, by 2012-2013, it is expected to rise to 144,800 students -- a gain of 30,000 students in 10 years. Kendell said the U of U isn't expected to grow that much, but growth will more likely happen on a community college level, such as at Utah Valley State College, where enrollment could grow to as many as 40,000 students.
Kendell said the trend is that for a student to afford college today, they must take out a loan.
"The average student loan today is $12,000-$14,000. It's a bad policy in my view that a student can't go to school unless they have a loan," Kendell said, but if that's what it takes, Kendell said that money invested in education is "better than driving a new car" he said, with apologies to one club member who sells cars. "It's (higher education) in the best interest of everybody," he said.
If there's a positive side to student loans, it's that students can borrow for as little as 2 percent interest from the state's student loan program, which processes a half billion dollars in loans yearly. The state can bond for the money at low rates, pay expenses to keep the program running and pay the rest back to the federal government. While the loans to students aren't offered at 2 percent, if a student pays the loan back within a specific time period, it can drop by one half of a percent and if they make payments via automatic withdrawal, it can be reduced another percent.
Kendell said that Gov. Olene Walker has appointed a panel to look at taxes. Part of what they are charged to examine is how the state will be able to afford to fund higher education.
"It's obvious we need to build the economy, but we can't build it on service jobs," Kendell said.
Some of the solution can be seen in work being done by research and development universities such as U of U and USU which bring in millions yearly to higher education.
If a solution is found, Kendell said, "college tuition could moderate, otherwise, it could go up by another 50 percent."