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Page 16 of 25

  Baccalaureate Degrees at
  Two-Year Institutions

Certainly the most contentious policy with regard to higher education in Utah over the past 15 years or so has been the move to allow two of the community colleges to offer four-year degrees. Utah Valley State College was the first to be given this authority in 1993; in 1999, the Legislature awarded Dixie College the authority to offer the baccalaureate as well. Though the circumstances leading to the request for change in authority were different at the two institutions, there were many similarities in the process. In both cases, the change in role was advocated by at least one powerful legislator from the college's local community. The Dixie College case in particular illustrates what many of our interviewees describe as the "governing" role of the Legislature with regard to the regents and higher education.

Utah Valley State College

In the late 1980s, there was growing demand in the Provo/Orem (Utah County) area for greater access to four-year degrees in the community. A primary argument was that because Utah County residents do not live within a 25-mile commuting distance of a four-year state institution like other residents along the Wasatch Front (the populated area along the western edge of the Wasatch Mountains, where about 80% of the state's population resides),42 they are not being served by the state with regard to higher education. That, coupled with the fact that Brigham Young University (BYU) (located in Provo as well) places a cap on its enrollment and admits a relatively small number of Utah residents (only 23% of BYU students are Utah residents, and only about 3% are from Utah County)43 , leaves local residents with limited options for a four-year degree. Salt Lake City is only about 45 miles away, but with Utah winters the drive can be a long one and not an easy commute for working students.

Initially, according to the president at Utah Valley at the time, an arrangement was made with Weber State University to establish a "University Center" on the Utah Valley campus. The Center began with some Weber State faculty coming to campus and offering courses in business and computing, and eventually evolved into a model where Weber State hired qualified Utah Valley faculty to teach the courses themselves. The model became one where Weber State got the money from the state and offered the degrees, and Utah Valley provided the facility, the students, and some of the faculty.

Student demand led the president at the time to go to the regents to propose that Utah Valley take over the programs and be given the authority to offer the baccalaureate in selected areas. During the 1991 legislative session, Senator C.E. Peterson from Provo, Utah, introduced legislation to change the role of Utah Valley Community College from a two-year to a four-year institution. The Board of Regents commissioned a study to look at baccalaureate needs in Utah in general. The results of this study, issued in 1992, concluded that Utah county was the area in the state with the greatest baccalaureate need, and recommended a reconstitution of UVCC as a community college that offered selected baccalaureate degrees. The report also recommended "substantially bolstered" University Centers programs at Dixie and the College of Eastern Utah.44 While the Board of Regents initially argued against the plan, calling first for the further investment in the University Centers program, in 1993 approval was given for the new Utah Valley State College to offer baccalaureate degrees in high demand areas. The three initial degree offerings have grown during the past 10 years to over 30 baccalaureates, and enrollment has grown from 10,000 to over 23,000 students. Over one-quarter of those are now enrolled in upper division courses.45

Offering baccalaureate degrees in Utah Valley "has been a good move" according to one long-time observer of higher education in Utah. "We were kind of uneasy about it at first, but the proof is in the pudding. The majors have been populated and the customer base is there." Despite concerns by some that the quality of the degree is watered down, there is no evidence that these students have been disadvantaged in the job market, according to another observer.

Dixie State College

Dixie State College, located in the southern Utah city of St. George, was the second two-year institution in the state to take up the call for the baccalaureate degree. Prior to this change, Southern Utah University, located just 45 minutes north of St. George in Cedar City, had been providing some upper division classes on the Dixie campus. According to newspaper accounts at the time, a 1998 audit by the commissioner's office found that SUU had apparently held back approximately $400,000 that had been earmarked for classes at Dixie's University Center.46 While SUU administrators argued that this was simply an oversight, the revelation brought on the ire of many in St. George, most notably state representative Bill Hickman. Hickman took matters into his own hands, defying the Board of Regents' recommendations (which were to keep the University Centers model in place but open it up to other four-year institutions, not just SUU), and introduced legislation to make Dixie a four-year college.47 To make sure that everyone knew where the power over these issues lies in the state, Hickman threatened a second bill to abolish the Board of Regents if his other measure did not pass. In a strongly worded editorial calling on the Legislature to reject Hickman's Bill, the Salt Lake Tribune argued that the bill was "inimical to the system of governance lawmakers themselves created to oversee Utah's nine state-supported colleges and universities."48 Yet legislative governance prevailed, and ultimately, Dixie was given approval in the fall of 1999 to offer two baccalaureate degrees. Now called Dixie State College of Utah, the institution offers baccalaureate degrees in business administration, computer and information technology, and elementary education and enrolls about 12% of its 7,600 students in upper division courses.49

There appears to be more skepticism about the changes at Dixie College than at UVSC, perhaps because they were made more recently, perhaps because of the proximity to SUU. The changes in Dixie were described as "depressing" by one observer, because of the cost to the state of having another baccalaureate institution, particularly one that duplicates something that already exists nearby. As one regent suggests, "The role of Dixie is going to gradually expand because this is what the community wants and they continue to have powerful legislative clout." The question the state will have to answer is how much duplication are they going to pay for 45 minutes apart. One university administrator did say that there were probably some reasons why it made sense for Dixie College to offer a baccalaureate degree in a critical area like nursing, but added that this may just add to mission confusion.

Precedent for other two-year colleges?

Now that two of the two-year colleges have been given the authority to offer four-year degrees, one can only wonder how long it will be before another institution has similar aspirations. Clearly there is pressure from the local communities to make such a move, but the Legislature, at least for now, has not made any moves in this direction. This issue could, however, be easily raised, depending upon the evolution of the Utah College of Applied Technology.

42 Wasatch Front definition is at Utah Place Names, (February 13, 2004).

43 Percentage of students from Utah is drawn from BYU Web site page Demographics (February 9, 2004).

44 In February 1992, a report by Bill Chance and NORED recommended that, because of population needs, Utah Valley Community College be reconstituted as a community college that offered selective baccalaureate programs in response to community needs.

45 Discussion of Utah Valley's move towards the baccalaureate degree is drawn from Katherine Kapos, "Regents Say No to UVCC as 4-Year School," Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 5,1991, p. 2B and Lili Wright, "Commissioner Advocates Three-Year UVCC Plan," Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 10, 1992, p. B1 and Joan O'Brien, "Utah Valley College to Graduate to 4-Year Status in 3 Programs," Salt Lake Tribune, July 8, 1993, page B1. Enrollment numbers are from Utah System of Higher Education, Data Book 2003-2004. Tab C, "Enrollments", p. 7.

46 Dan Egan, "Dixie College May Become 'University Center'; Regents consider shifting $500,000 from Southern Utah University to bachelor's degree programs in St. George," Salt Lake Tribune, Nov. 3, 1998, p. B5.

47 Prior to the change in Dixie's mission, the Economic Development Council of Washington County, where Dixie College is located, commissioned NORED to conduct a needs assessment for baccalaureate degrees in the area. The recommendations of this report called for a change to Dixie modeled on the Utah Valley State College version. Bill Hickman used this study as grounds for introducing his bill.

48 "Quell Dixie Revolt," editorial, Salt Lake Tribune, Feb. 4, 1999, p A12.

49 Utah System of Higher Education, Data Book 2004-05, Tab C, "Fall Semester Headcount Enrollment Residency Status and Class Standing Academic Year 2002-03 and 2003-04," Table 3 ( September 17, 2004).


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