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2 Sense: UVU gets $21 million shot in the financial arm

By Val Hale And Donna Milakovic - | Mar 20, 2014

Val: For the last couple of years, the top legislative priority for the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce has been to help secure equity funding for Utah Valley University and the Mountainland Applied Technology College. Our businesses need an educated and trained workforce in order to continue growing and innovating.

Equity funding is a fancy way of saying “fair” funding. For years, UVU and MATC have not received the same amount of per-student funding available to their peer state institutions. For instance, if UVU were to receive the same amount of funding per student as Weber State, UVU’s budget would increase by $30 million per year. The MATC faces a similar problem.

UVU has complained about the inequitable funding for years. Utah County legislators have fought valiantly to try to rectify the problem, but territorial politics always got in the way. Until this year.

Thanks to the persistent efforts of Presidents Matt Holland and Clay Christensen and a few key legislators and education leaders, the state was finally able to tackle the equity funding problem in a big way. Some $50 million of on-going money was allocated in the higher education budget to specifically address equity funding. Of that amount, about $21 million will go to UVU. MATC came away with an additional $2 million in equity and capacity funding.

Few people understand what a huge political victory this was for Utah Valley. We should all tip our hats to those who made this minor miracle happen.

House Speaker Becky Lockhart deserves a huge pat on the back. She has been a warrior on equity funding for many years. No one can underestimate the influence the Speaker yielded on this issue. There are those who claim the Speaker got beat up during the session, but the fact that UVU and MATC came away with such a windfall should be considered a significant victory for her.

Likewise, Governor Gary Herbert should be commended. He always tries to be ecumenical and does not like to be portrayed as a Utah Valley “homer,” but his making equity funding at his hometown university a priority was critical for its success.

The two legislators deserving the most praise are Provo’s Keith Grover and St. George’s Steve Urquhart. Those two chair the Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee. Rep. Grover was a bulldog fighting for UVU and MATC. He stood up to the immense political pressure from other legislators attempting to protect “their” universities. Urquhart, too, stood his ground in fighting for equity funding. Those two waged some internal battles in the House and Senate and risked alienating more than a few of their colleagues by standing firm.

Other Utah Valley legislators on the Higher Ed Appropriations Subcommittee included Senator John Valentine, Rep. Dana Layton and Rep. Dean Sanpei. They were huge champions for equity funding. Valentine’s influence in the Senate was especially instrumental in that body and in the budget negotiations.

Besides those legislators already mentioned, props must be given to the entire Utah County delegation. Our legislators have, for the most part, stood united in their support for UVU and MATC. This equity funding victory was the culmination of a long battle waged by many Utah County legislators over the past 15 or so years.

Another key player was Provo’s Dan Campbell, who serves as vice-chair of the Utah State Board of Regents. Campbell and Chair Bonnie Beesley were able to convince the presidents of the other universities that they should forego additional funding this year so UVU, Dixie State University and Salt Lake Community College could get caught up. That was no small feat and is something the Regents never would have even considered doing a decade ago. Calling it a miracle is only a slight exaggeration.

We also thank those Chamber members and businesses that went to battle on UVU’s behalf. Our business people have made a lot of phone calls and twisted a lot of arms over the years about equity funding.

And, finally, we all owe a debt of gratitude to President Holland. When it comes to equity funding, he has been like a Rottweiler with his teeth firmly attached to the legislators’ pant legs ever since he took the UVU job. He was not about to let go until they screamed, “Uncle!”

Donna: It is always gratifying to see a long-term project come to fruition, and Equity Funding for Utah Valley University has certainly been a long-time project for this county. One of the largest factors for UVU with funding is the growth it has experienced since becoming a university. The huge increase in students coincided with some of the leanest years for our state. With budget cuts happening in all areas of the economy there was no money to fund growth in education. However, over the last two budget cycles, the state has begun to see more revenues. This is partly because we are the best state in the nation for business.

In order to retain our status as the best-managed state and the best state for business, we will need to keep our standards high when it comes to educating our workforce. UVU has done an amazing job of engaging with business and creating unprecedented partnerships that have allowed the university to do more with far less funding than other similar institutions. However, the time has come when the business community of our county is calling for better programs and more graduates to fill jobs that are open right now.

It is a huge win for UVU to get the much-needed funding ongoing to help ensure that high-level classes can be offered more often and that those poised to graduate do not fail to finish because they must wait six months to a year for their final class. Most of the students at UVU are working full or part time. It can be difficult to justify taking classes for an extra year while working full time in order to finish in the degree program.

Also businesses want to see qualified graduates each semester, if possible, not only in April. As I have said, there are jobs open right now in several industries in Utah County. The technology industry has more than 1,000 open positions with good pay and great benefits that are not being filled because we have a very low unemployment rate. The catch is getting qualified people and to qualify means in some cases going back to school. President Holland has been working for years to ensure that UVU has a pulse on the workforce needs of the county. With this more equal share of state funding for programs and staffing, hopefully his team will be able to meet those needs and anticipate programs for the future that will better prepare our kids to succeed.

An outrageously high percentage of UVU students who graduate from the university stay in Utah County. It is our university with our kids and friends and neighbors attending and our taxes paying for education. Thanks to all of the people Val mentioned and others more of those tax dollars are now staying local. I look for great things to come from UVU in the future.

Not to be forgotten is Mountainland Applied Technology College. One quick conversation with President Clay Christensen is all it takes to discover the incredible impact this college has on our workforce. When it comes to certification programs, technical education, welding, medical technician and assisting careers and even culinary arts, MATC is leading the county in amazing education. Their high school concurrent enrollment is free to high school students. They have an advisory board in every industry they serve to make sure each certification or training program is up to date information and that students will succeed. They can’t keep students in some of their programs long enough because they get hired away across the U.S. Still they have an overall 95% plus placement rate for students. I am so pleased to see this great institution receive some more funding for their programs, but I think they deserve more and we will continue to fight for them to get more equal funding. They are one of, if not the fastest, growing ATC in the state.

Well done to both of these fantastic educational institutions for doing more with less for all of this time, and hopefully with a little more revenue they will continue to exceed our expectations.

Val Hale is president and CEO of the Utah Valley Chamber of Commerce. • Donna Milakovic is Executive Vice President of the Utah Valley Chamber o Commerce.


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