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State Policies to
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  State Context

When most people first think of Utah, they probably think of a conservative culture and a state dominated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS Church), characteristics that are, in fact, true. This is the context in which Utah higher education occurs. The population is young (the median age is 27.1, the lowest in the nation) and families are large (the average 3.57 family size is the largest in the country).2 This combination puts a significant burden on the education system, since the school age population is relatively larger in Utah than in other states.

With just over 2.2 million people, Utah ranks 34th in terms of population size among the 50 states. While still a relatively small state, Utah has experienced significant growth over the past 10 years. Between the 1990 and 2000 census, Utah's population grew by 29.6% (510,000 people), the fourth fastest rate of growth among the states. Though changing somewhat with this growth, the state's population remains very homogeneous: 89% are white and 67% are members of the LDS Church.3 Forty percent of the state's population lives in Salt Lake County, which represents less than one percent of the total land area of the state. The Hispanic population is the fastest growing portion of the population in Utah, with a 138% increase between 1990 and 2000; the state's 201,000 Hispanics now represent about 10% of Utah's population. 4

Utah enjoyed a strong economy in the 1990s, benefiting not only from the national economic boom but also from greater diversification, with less dependence on industries like defense and mining and the development and relocation of many high tech companies. The national recession of the early 1990s was barely felt in Utah, and at its peak in 1994 job growth in the state was 6.2%. The most recent recession has had a much greater impact on Utah, with job growth down to .9% by 2001, compared to an average of 4.3% from 1989-1999.5 Unemployment rates have also been rising, from a low of 3 % in 1997 to 6 % in 2002.6 As in most states, downturns in the economy usually mean difficulties for higher education budgets, and Utah has been no exception the last several years.

The relative income of Utahns compared to the rest of the country depends on whether you consider per capita or household income. Per capita income in Utah is below the national average. In 1999, per capita income in Utah was $18,185, compared to a national average of $21,582. The below average ranking here can be partly explained by the fact that Utahns have large families, which explains the relatively high percentage of children in the state. By comparison, median household income in Utah at $45,726 was above the national average of $41,994.7

The homogeneity of the demographics is reflected in the state Legislature, where approximately 75% of the legislators in both houses are Republicans and almost 90% of legislators are members of the LDS Church. The Legislature is part-time and meets for a 45-day session each year. The Legislature is seen by those within the state as very strong and, by most accounts, the key policymaking body. Individual legislators have been successful championing change for higher education institutions in their particular regions. Legislators have been quite influential in the evolution of institutional missions, as will be discussed later in this paper with regard to the changes in degree offerings at two of the state's community colleges. Though the Board of Regents sets tuition and recommends tuition increases, the legislature is closely involved in the process. The legislature may use "intent language" to specify maximum increases or how increases should be spent. The use of such language in the FY2004 budget is discussed later in this case study.

Olene Walker, Utah's governor during the time of this case study, is a Republican. Governor Walker was the lieutenant governor under Republican Governor Mike Leavitt, who served as governor for 10 years before leaving to become the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). (Utah's newly elected governor, Jon Huntsman, is also a Republican.) Both Governors Leavitt and Walker made education a top priority in their policy agendas. Governor Leavitt placed a particular emphasis on technology initiatives, pushing for greater funding in this area to improve the capacity of the higher education system to respond to the changing societal demands. Many of our respondents believe that funding declines for both K-12 and higher education have been moderated because of the efforts of the governors to hold education as harmless as possible.

State political support for higher education does appear to be strong when looking at particular funding statistics. In FY2003, higher education expenditures in Utah represented about 13.3% of total state expenditures compared to the national average of 10.8%.8 Internal state figures, calculated somewhat differently from these national figures, show that higher education's share of the general budget was 17.1% in 1994-95 but was down to 15.8% in 2003-04.9

2 Demographic data is available from the 2000 US Census,, Table DP-1 Profile of General Demographic Characteristics.

3 Population by ethnicity is available from the 2000 US Census,; for population breakdown by religious affiliation, see the American Religion Data Archive, (January 15, 2004).

4 The Changing Face of Utah: Census 2000, (December 10, 2004).

5 For more discussion of the Utah economy, see State of Utah Economic Overview, (February 9, 2004).

6 State of Utah Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, Demographic and Economic Analysis-Labor Force Information 1980-2002, (January 20,2004).

7 Income data are from the U.S. Bureau of the Census, Census 2000, Profile of Selected Economic Characteristics, Table DP-3 for Utah and the United States.

8 National Association of Budget Officers, 2003 State Expenditure Report, (December 8, 2004).

9 Governor's Office of Planning and Budget, State of Utah Budget Summaries, FY1998 and FY2003; Governor's Budget Recommendations: FY2005.


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