Wednesday, April 2, 2014

2014 Utah Legislature deconstructed – with pizza

Free pizza was a nice touch, but the meat of Tim Sheehan’s presentation on April 1 at Salt Lake Community College’s Taylorsville Redwood Campus focused more on what you’d find in a pie chart rather than a round pie with cheese on top.

“I think that when you start to see the numbers from Vice President Sheehan, you will agree that this was really a phenomenal year for higher education in general in terms of priority, but certainly for Salt Lake Community College,” Interim President Dr. Deneece Huftalin said before introducing and thanking Sheehan. “I think much of where we’re situated this year has been because of the way Tim (Sheehan) has been able to build strong relationships full of integrity on The Hill.”

Sheehan, SLCC vice president over government and community relations, summed up the 45-day session, in which Utah lawmakers tackled funding and legislating the business of higher education. Overall, the Utah Legislature showed a “substantial commitment” to the state’s public colleges and universities, according to a report handed out to more than 100 people who gathered in the Student Center Oak Room to hear Sheehan.

SLCC will receive a substantial share ($15 million) of a $50 million Utah System of Higher Education (USHE) 2014-2015 appropriation dubbed “acute equity.” That money means the cost of funding students’ education at SLCC will fall even more on the state (59 percent) and less on the student (41 percent), a change of about 7 percent from last year, bringing the ratio closer to a national norm of about 70 percent (state) to 30 percent (tuition).

“We were really pleased with that,” Sheehan said. “Ultimately, the things we do here are for the students. Right? That’s what we do here. … Hopefully we will be able to keep our tuition rates as affordable for our students as we can possibly make them.”

Students came out the winner with SLCC’s $800,000 share of $7 million for so-called Mission Based Funding Distinctive Mission, which will benefit SLCC’s Student Advising Pathway Project. The State Board of Regents also asked for a three percent increase in compensation for employees in higher education, but the final appropriation for a bump in pay came in at around 1.25 percent, which was the same for all state employees. Lawmakers also approved a funding increase for USHE to cover the rising cost of healthcare and retirement.

“That was maybe the one discouraging part of the session,” Sheehan said. “We know you’ve felt the pinch. We know there haven’t been large increases. We will keep asking the Legislature over and over for compensation for the work that you do.”

Sheehan also handed out information about 19 bills of particular interest to SLCC that passed in 2014, including several that impact military veterans in a positive way. Sheehan said that lawmakers frequently mentioned SLCC’s Veterans Center as how to model other centers on college campuses.

“Kudos to our veterans folks among others for the work they do and how they represent us,” Sheehan said.

He ended his presentation by urging everyone to be involved in the political process, particularly during an election cycle.

“We need your voices,” he said. “Wherever your political preferences are, it doesn’t matter – We need to be involved. But we certainly need to be involved in representing and advocating on behalf of higher education.”