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Legislation to merge higher education with tech colleges may benefit rural counties

Legislation to merge higher education with tech colleges may benefit rural counties

 

By Robert Green

Staff writer

2-20-2020

 

Proposed legislation to merge Utah’s System of Higher Education (USHE) with Utah’s Technical Colleges (UTECH) might fit in perfectly with Snow College President Bradley Cook’s plans to bring better workforce training options to students in Sanpete and Sevier Counties.

As it stands right now, students who would like to get a certificate in mechanics or electronics must travel to either Cedar City or Orem, Cook said.

Snow College’s campus in Richfield does offer associates degrees in many technical fields, but the time and cost to complete a degree is much greater than earning a certificate, he said.

“We would like to expand our offerings to meet more workforce training challenges and align our options with economic concerns,” he said.

Snow College does not want to give up anything it is currently doing as the No. 1 rated two-year junior college in the country. Cook explained that Snow College has two missions: One is an academic mission and Snow is excellent at academics. But there is also a technical mission, where Snow could emphasize workforce development to align with the needs of the economy. “We don’t much of this,” he said. “But we should.”

Many of Sanpete’s workers are looking for a welding, mechanics or electronics certificate, he said.

Technical education lost its momentum in central Utah about 20 years ago when Sevier Valley Tech and Snow College merged in the late 1990s, Cook said. The enrollment at Sevier Valley has gone down from 1600 students to 500 students today. “The reason for the decline,” Cook said, “is that up to 70 percent of our high school students don’t see themselves as going to college.”

Many of these student, however, would like to earn an applied technology certificate and become gainfully employed.

“In a way, an important dimension of technical education has been eliminated,” Cook said. “We would like to bring that back now. A lot of the available jobs don’t necessarily need degrees.”

In the vein, Cook would like to create a unit at Snow College that will teach applied technologies. This Richfield Campus has more space and might be able to carry some of these classes. There could be some job training offered to non-traditional students and adult education, he said.

This new development could help the employment situation in central Utah. There are a lot of jobs in the medical field right now that need applied technologists. Local hospitals can’t get enough phlebotomists, pharmacy techs and radiology techs, for example, he said. Some of these degrees can be achieved in 90 hours for $900. These are great jobs for people who could help out right here in the local markets.

Cook favors the idea of combining academics with technical applications and whole-heartedly supports the pending legislation to combine USHE with UTECH.

The more the two systems engage with each other and talk with each other, the better off the students will be, Cook said. He doesn’t like the idea of creating individual silos for the two systems, and in that regard, believes the proposed bill will be a benefit to Snow College. “There is no point of having two boards,” he said. “Let’s just have one board; that will help the students.”

This Higher Education Bill, SB 111, proposes to create a unified system of higher education in Utah, bringing Utah’s two- and four-year public schools and Utah’s technical colleges under the same umbrella. Both USHE’s Board of Regents and UTECH’s Board of Trustees have spoken in favor of the bill.

SB 111 aims to help Utah students in a variety of ways. First, it would allow school credits to transfer smoothly between state colleges and universities, protecting students’ investments of time and money. Second, it would reduce student loan debt and increase graduation rates by making postsecondary degrees and certificates more affordable and manageable for students. Finally, the bill would make higher education more accessible for Utahns—including students in rural areas.

Spokespersons for the Board of Regents said, “We support this effort to create additional efficiencies in Utah’s combined higher education and technical college systems, and to provide greater clarity for students with respect to the opportunities available to them upon completing high school.”

Steve Moore, chair of the Board of Trustees for the Utah System of Technical Colleges, supports the bill as well. “As the UTECH Board of Trustees leadership, we are excited about the positive benefit for the students of Utah that can come from combining the best of the two higher education systems together,” he said. “This legislation focuses on what is best for Utah’s students and employers and enhances their educational opportunities and employment pathways.”