SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah Legislature has decreed that a much-needed merger of all of Utah’s post-secondary education assets will begin July 1.
Under legislation proposed by Sen. Ann Millner of Ogden, a single Utah Board of Education will govern all technical and degree-granting institutions. That panel will replace the Utah State Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees of the Utah Technical Colleges.
The primary beneficiaries of the merger of those previously sometimes competitive systems of post-secondary education will be Utah students and employers, according to Millner, the former president of Weber State University.
“It’s groundbreaking for the students of Utah,” agrees Steve Moore, the chairman of the soon-to-be-dissolved trustee board for the Utah Technical Colleges. “That’s what it’s really all about – the students of the state of Utah and the employers who hire the students that we serve.”
Millner explains that the long-term goals of the new comprehensive educational system will include greater access to post-secondary education for students, especially those in rural areas; increased cooperation between Utah institutions; improved affordability of post-secondary education; increased responsiveness to the needs of Utah employers; improved educational mobility from certificate programs at technical colleges to degree programs at universities; and, accelerated graduation rates.
The format of the new higher education system was a consensus developed through painstaking negotiations between regents, trustees, educators and business leaders, Millner adds.
The new Utah Board of Higher Education will include six members each from the former Board of Regents and the former Board of Trustees of the technical colleges; two student members (one from a tech college and one from a university); and four at-large members selected by the Utah governor to represent specific areas of expertise. The board will then select a commissioner to be approved by the governor and confirmed by the Utah Senate. Associate commissioners for academic and technical education will then be appointed, along with separate boards of trustees for each of the universities and colleges. Finally, an Industry Advisory Council including representatives of Utah employers and K-12 public education will consult with the new board about their respective areas of interest.
“The primary objective (of the new organizational system),” Speaker of the Utah House Brad Wilson emphasizes, “is increasing access to and the affordability of post-secondary education for our students across the state.”
Millner added that the new Board of Higher Education will seek to achieve that goal by improving articulation of programs and reduction of duplicative offerings across the entire post-secondary system.
“Ideally, we want there to be seamless pathways from a certificate program at a technical college, through a related associate program and eventually to a degree at university level,” Miller adds, “so that a student doesn’t have to waste time and money by starting over at any point along that way.”
That facilitation of credit transfers between post-secondary institutions is also expected to improve graduation rates and reduce student loan debt levels.