Tech Schools Cost State Less than 2-year Colleges, Audit Says

Hour for hour, technical education costs the state less when offered at one of the Utah College of Applied Technology campuses rather than at two-year colleges in Utah.

The Legislative Auditor General’s Office conducted a review of instruction and overhead costs during the past year — visiting all eight UCAT campuses statewide and three two-year colleges that offer some of the same short-term and vocational or trade-specific training — and found costs are nearly half as much at applied technology colleges.

UCAT Chairman Tom Bingham agreed with the findings, saying UCAT is a cheaper option for the state. Although the two systems serve different missions, he said, "both systems are vital to the state’s work force and economy."

UCAT instructors apparently don’t get paid as much and students aren’t required to pay as much tuition and fees to cover other costs. Other discrepancies arise from differing maintenance and facility costs as well as what each campus offers students in its total package.

UCAT, however, doesn’t grant credit for the hours students spend in class — while colleges do.

Commissioner of Higher Education William Sederburg said out-of-class instruction hours were included in the higher education calculations, which he believes makes the costs "more comparable." He said such teacher-student interaction is necessary in a college setting, while ATC students work at their own pace.

"The educational experience is different at a USHE institution versus an ATC," he said in a letter responding to the audit.

The audit also revealed that two UCAT campuses have developed partnerships with private businesses that garner additional funds for the school while outsourcing instruction, don’t necessarily cost the institution that much to deliver, resulting in excess appropriations. Also, $5 million appropriated to public school districts in the state, intended to cover costs of high school students involved in technology-related courses, is believed by the auditors to be excessive because those students are already accounted for under UCAT costs.

However, in his response to the audit, Bingham reminds state leaders that such is the case because ATC instruction is intended to be free to secondary students.

The audit recommends that the UCAT board of trustees "exercise greater control over outsourced instruction" and "clarify its policies regarding program exemption." It further suggests the Legislature adjust school district funding and amend state code to reflect the duplication of efforts by ATCs.


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