Former president assists in mapping CEU's future
A familiar face will be tracking the county streets as former College of Eastern Utah president Michael Petersen will spend the next 30 days to six weeks evaluating the local campuses future.
In a press release issued on April 7, Utah higher education Commissioner William Sederburg announced that Petersen would be spending time in the eastern Utah area developing a plan for the future viability of the college.
Petersen served as CEU's president for 11 years, from 1985 to 1996, and currently heads the Utah Education Network.
Once the information has been gathered, Petersen will make recommendations to the Utah Board of Regents in May.
"We want to see a plan from Mike concerning what the plan is going to be for the college over the coming years," said Sederburg, during an interview at the Sun Advocate on April 8. "Because when the governor asks me what is going to happen with CEU in the furture, I want to be able to say, this is Mike's plan for the next 10 years."
The potential state budget cut of 17 percent in 2011 hits CEU particularly hard, since an average 88 percent of its budget has been funded by the state over the past 10 years, compared to an average of 63 percent for all state colleges and universities.
According to the release, CEU also faces enrollment challenges since the number of high school graduates in its region peaked in 1998 and has declined by 23 percent since then.
The number of high school graduates is also projected to continue to decline by approximately another 10 percent over the next 10 year.
The facts have raised questions about the future of the college, reports the release.
The college has continually studied the viability of a merger with Utah State University in the recent past.
But according to the commissioner, Snow College is also being considered as a partnering program for the College of Eastern Utah.
"The possible partnership with Snow is cost driven," said Sederburg. "We want to see if there are going to be ways in which the two schools can share certain costs while allowing CEU to stay essentially the same. We do not want to lose the identity of CEU."
Also in attendance at the interview was current college president Mike King, who expressed that both he and his administration are happy to cooperate with the study in any way possible.
"We just want to see the studies come to a final analysis," said King. "We want to see what areas we can improve in and what we can do to attract more students. I am proud of our programs, in fact we recently had a student welder, Mason Winters, win a international competition in Ireland. We have an institution that works, we are just interested to see what is going to be the best way to keep it going."
But to "keep it going," the college is going to have to develop new revenue or find a way to share its expenses.
According to Sederburg, campuses around the state have seen an eight to 12 percent increase in enrollment while CEU has gained 50 students. Additionally, due to the lower amount of students and their economic situation, Sederburg felt that raising tuition costs was not the answer for CEU, as the revenue generated would not match the hardships it could cause.
With higher state jobless rates enrollment is on the rise within Utah, as there is a correlation between unemployment and new students, however, due to Carbon County's relatively low unemployment rate the trend has yet to impact the local campus.
So the studies continue.
Petersen will be meeting with members of the community, faculty and staff along with officials from the school district and several outlying campuses that are affiliated with CEU. After Petersen's research he will make one of two recommendations to the board of regents.
The two options would see CEU more closely affiliated with a sister institution of higher education. According to the release, under one option, CEU would become a campus of Utah State University. It would remain "quasi-autonomous" in terms of keeping its identity, having its own athletic teams and performing arts and in seeking state funding of its operations and for buildings.
Option two would see CEU affiliated with Snow College, where the two institutions would share resources to improve education programs and drive economic efficiencies while remaining separate institutions.
In the end, the recommendation will fall to Petersen.
"Mike Petersen brings superb and unique qualifications to this task," concluded Sederburg in his release. "As president of CEU for more than a decade, Mike has a great love for this part of the state as well as an in-depth understanding of the challenges CEU faces now and in the future. I am confident that the result will be a strengthened CEU, prepared to meet not only today's challenges but to provide expanded opportunities for eastern Utah."