Utah legislators crack down on tuition waivers, officials say DSU is in the clear

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Utah legislators are concerned with the increase in tuition waivers at Utah universities.

The total amount of tuition waived at Utah universities increased by 70.6 percent in the last three years. 

Joni Hale, assistant director of scholarships, said at Dixie State University, the increase in tuition waivers is tied to the overall increase in student enrollment. 

As DSU attracts more academically prepared and qualifying students for academic scholarships, the number of waivers offered to those students increases as well.

Hale said waivers are significant on campus because they cover all of DSU’s academic scholarships. All merit scholarships, good neighbor scholarships and WUE scholarships waive tuition.

“About 80 percent of the scholarships we have are waivers,” said Paul Morris, vice president of administrative services. “Twenty percent is cash of some type. Maybe it’s an endowment, maybe a donor has given it, maybe it’s fundraising … there’s always cash behind those [scholarships].”

Andrea Brown, director of institutional research and assessment, said for the fall 2017 semester, 23 percent of DSU students were on a tuition waiver of some kind.

Hale said the state allows DSU to waive a certain amount each year, but that amount is revealed by the end of each academic year. Waivers are taken off student accounts, and cash-funded scholarships replace them as a way for the institution to make up the waived funds.

The Utah System of Higher Education said universities may waive up to 10 percent of the total amount of tuition. According to a Utah legislative brief for the 2013-2014 academic year, DSU waived a total of $2,015,629.

The Deseret News published an article stating that members of Utah’s Higher Education Appropriation Subcommittee voted to cut university tuition waiver budgets by 1 percent, although their vote is preliminary, and members would like to investigate the use and increase of tuition waivers in more depth.

Tuition waivers may be offered to residents, non-residents, members of the Utah National Guard and to encourage students to study fields deemed as critical to Utah, among other qualifications.

Hale said although Utah legislators are worried about certain Utah universities, DSU is not one of them, and it can expect no dramatic changes in the process of offering tuition waivers.

“We forecast what we think our enrollments are going to be, and we set our targets for a lot of budgetary issues, waivers is one,” Morris said. “We have a good idea what we’ll need for waiver money.”

Morris said waiver expectations are calculated before each academic year to estimate take rates although the estimations are not perfect. Take rates can go over or under the estimation, but DSU always has contingency planning for either case. He said the tuition waiver process is solid and reliable because of the long-term experience DSU has with tuition waivers.

“Waivers are something we’ve done for a long time and something we know how to manage,” Morris said. “I think [waivers] help students go to school, get their education and recognize their dreams … we have lots of categories of waivers that, I think, touch the lives of many students.”