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  Utah College of Applied Technology

After an eight-year battle in the Legislature, business and industry leaders and legislators adopted legislation in 2001 that brought the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT) into the higher education system in Utah. UCAT was created from nine vocational technical centers throughout the state with a central "campus" that is really only an administrative office. The college was created, according to its president, in response to business and industry's call for students who are skilled in certain areas and equipped to work. In addition to its postsecondary role, UCAT still has a significant portion of high school students that it trains (approximately 1/3 of its enrollment comes from high school students), blurring its role as part of higher education. Postsecondary enrollments at the UCAT campuses range from over 9,000 students at the Bridgerland (located in Logan, near Utah State University) and Mountainland (in Orem, near Brigham Young and Utah Valley State College) campuses, to just over 200 students at Dixie Applied Technology College Campus (in the southern part of the state near Dixie College).

As one would suspect, those who are most supportive of UCAT are those who are business leaders (including many regents) while those who are most critical come from the traditional higher education community and public (K-12) education. Supporters of UCAT's inclusion in higher education argue that from the student standpoint it has been a "smashing success." A regent noted that the inclusion in higher education offers the UCAT institutions a kind of prestige that they did not have before, and therefore encourages more students to seek education at these institutions if they believe they have more "clout" as a college than as a technical center. Another regent argues that UCAT is a good example of how we can provide education more efficiently. "As flawed as the legislation isI believe that whoever can do it (provide educational opportunity) and meet student needs should do it."

Critics of the 2001 legislation argue that it is confusing. While part of the statewide system of higher education, UCAT has its own board and its budget goes through the commerce committee, not the higher education appropriations committee. Another commonly mentioned concern is that the Legislature requires the Board of Regents to create an "associate of applied technology degree" offered on the UCAT campuses and transferable to other USHE institutions. This associate degree requires a general education component that must be contracted out to another institution of higher education.

The biggest concern among the "traditional" higher education institutions about the inclusion of UCAT in the Utah System of Higher Education is that of duplication. UCAT institutions offer many of the same courses and programs that the community colleges do. The president of UCAT argues that his institutions offer things "in a different way" from the community colleges (shorter-term, competency-based, non-credit) and therefore are not duplicative, but rather provide a different option for students. On the other hand, campus officials, particularly from institutions that offer two-year degrees, see UCAT as direct competition to their programs. While currently UCAT campuses are not allowed to offer general education ("the safety" provided by the Legislature to keep academic drift from occurring, according the UCAT president) many campus administrators see this as a temporary restriction that will likely be lifted in the near future. The historical evolution of institutions like Salt Lake Community College from technical center to technical college to community college is a pattern likely to be repeated, many higher education administrators believe. If the UCAT institutions evolve similarly, the costs to the state could be great as new facilities would be required. "We've gone overboard with access here," argues one administrator. The reservations about UCAT are very much issues of turf: Just as the presidents of the four-year institutions were wary of authorizing Utah Valley and Dixie to offer baccalaureate degrees, administrators at institutions that offer associate degrees and vocational programs are concerned about the expanding role that UCAT will play in higher education.

Despite the complaints about the confusion created by UCAT, the potential for duplication with the community colleges and the fear that these institutions will one day try to become full-fledged community colleges, there does seem to be a sense that these institutions provide an affordable alternative for education and training beyond high school for those students who want to obtain a degree in a manner that may not fit into a traditional academic calendar or program.


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