Report recommends merging CEU, USU into 'quasi' relationship
The College of Eastern Utah Board of Trustees met last Thursday to hear recommendations from Michael Petersen's report on the future success of CEU.
Petersen, who works for the commission of higher education and is a former president at the Price campus, has completed a six week study on the school's troubles and its possible affiliation with another college or university in the state to alleviate some of the financial woes the school has been facing.
In short, the report recommended that CEU become a quasi-autonomous institution within the Utah System of Higher Education in conjunction with Utah State University.
"The quasi autonomous status will preserve and strengthen CEU and help it continue to respond to local needs," said Petersen during the meeting.
The report outlines various steps of what will happen if and when the merger happens as well as the course of action that will need to take place in order to end CEU's instability. According to Petersen, the report focuses mainly on the financial and educational issues surrounding the school, but he said he has not been able to find any general consensus as to what should be done.
"This report provides solutions to problems we don't have," said Troy Hunt, who is president of the faculty. "Dr. Petersen's report identifies our two main problems as being permanent leadership and issues of enrollment. Yet he says in his own report, that his proposal does not solve those (problems). That makes me question the validity of the report."
According to the report, CEU has experienced a 26.5 percent decline in full time students over the past decade, a decline which is expected to increase due to lower high school populations in the area. Currently, the financial situation of the college is down nearly nine percent from a year ago, totaling to around $1.4 million and with the endowment being down $100,000. Next year the budget is set for $16.6 million with salaries and benefits accounting for about $13 million and the rest going to various operating expenses.
To cut costs actions are being taken, including an insurance cost sharing program for employees, that will save about $300,000. In addition, some part time positions will be eliminated along with positions from which present employees are retiring.
However further studies will provide more information as to how a restructure can help.
Discussion by the board about the report, questioned its ability to deal with CEU's problems. According to trustee board president Neal Peacock, it would be great if everything in the plan worked. But in reality, he said he believes that it might be unrealistic.
Notable administrative changes, on the report if the merger occurs, detail that the current position of president at CEU, would report to the president of USU and the position would be called a chancellor. The CEU Board of Trustees would retain significant authority with respect to the USU Board, but would be delegated and subject to review from the USU Board. Academically, however, the community college mission would be maintained and would still include the pursuit of transfer degrees, workforce education and professional training programs that reflect the needs of southeastern Utah. The current low tuition rate structure for the lower division classes would remain.
New to the college would be additional support for CEU and USU faculty to collaborate with baccalaureate majors to transfer more seamlessly to USU to continue work on their degrees.
In addition the CEU staff would have more opportunities to teach higher level courses. On top of that the research mission of CEU would be expanded to be more "meaningfully implemented in southeastern Utah," according to the report.
The trade offs do offer some obstacles to overcome, but are "reasonable" and while there might be some sacrifice, there is potential for great benefit, according to Petersen.
Much is pending on a vote about the issue from the Board of Regents at their May 29 meeting.
Interim CEU President Mike King says that meeting and its outcome will probably be followed by more discussion.
The idea of merging CEU with USU is not a new one. Last year a study was attempted by the Board of Regents to look at doing just that but the group that was appointed to do that came back with an inconclusive recommendation.
Some at the school have also been concerned about a possible closure of the facility, but few really believe that will happen. In 1957 the former mayor of Price turned governor of the state of Utah recommended to the legislature that the then Carbon College be closed and that two other junior colleges in the state at the time (Snow College and Weber Junior College) be turned back over to their founders, the LDS church.
But throughout a near year long campaign local boosters and others in the state turned the idea into a referendum and the voters of Utah voted not to change the college system at the time.
Thursday's meeting also ended inconclusively.
"I hope that the issue can be resolved as soon as possible," concluded King.
Richard Shaw contributed to this story.