For the taxpayers of Utah, 1% —1.5% is my best guess.
Bernie Sanders promoted “free college” during the 2016 Democratic Primaries; unfortunately, Senator Sanders wasn’t able to articulate that message into a winning strategy. Democrats, in general, are failing to capitalize on an issue that should resonate with the majority of Americans.
Who is concerned about college cost? If it’s not everybody, it should be. There are nearly 120,000 students enrolled in Utah’s colleges and universities. With approximately 900,000 households, we can estimate that more than 1 in 10 households have a college student and are directly impacted by the cost of college. I would wager that families with school-age children (K-12) are equally concerned. Add grandparents to the equation, what percentage of Utah households are concerned? You and all these people — hundreds of thousands if not a one to two million — who want the next generation to succeed.
If the cost of college were negligible, wouldn’t the majority of these people (parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, neighbors) consider college a worthwhile option?
If the definition of a public institution is one that receives the majority of its funding from the public, then the state of Utah is on the verge of losing its public institutions of higher education (Table 1).
So, I want to pose a question: What would it cost to fund public higher education fully?
In Utah, the total FY 2016 budget was $14.2 billion; 12% of that was for Higher Education — approximately $1.7 billion. This amount is the Operating and Capital Budget. Students currently spend roughly $680 million in tuition and fees (Table 2). To fully fund higher education would require increasing the amount of money spent on higher education by 40% — but this is less than a 5% increase in the total state budget.
What would this mean to taxpayers? Census estimates show Utah having just over 900 thousand households in 2016; the median household income was $61,000. A back-of-the-envelope calculation would have the typical family pay less than $800 per year which would amount to a 1% — 1.5% increase in the income tax rate (currently at 5%). If you are a parent who wants their child to go to college, this is a bargain. For those of us whose children will be out of college, it’s a price I’d be willing to pay to provide qualified students the opportunity to succeed along a path with known financial benefits.
Is this a reasonable estimate? (It’s a start.)
Is this feasible? (It seems possible to me.)
It’s not free college — taxpayers will pay the bill, but it’s the ideal of public education and investment in our state we should consider.