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USU Eastern and local business go together

Programs that benefit the community, including skills taught that are used in industry are important to the college. The welding program at USU-Eastern is one of the vocational programs that have produced outstanding graduates along with trained personnel for local industrial businesses.
Dr. Joe Peterson, the Chancellor of Utah State University Eastern.

Sun Advocate associate editor

In all of Southeastern Utah, there are but two cities where the population is higher than the elevation: Price and Moab.

Across the whole 19,000 square miles of the four county region, the head count as of the 2010 census was still under 60,000. That's spread out mighty thin. While it makes for a great way to avoid crowds and traffic jams, it does create some challenges in terms of how decision makers will allocate public resources. The cost of any given project or program has to be divided by the number of people it will benefit.

So something like a bridge in the Salt Lake Valley is going benefit more people than the same bridge in a rural region. Looking at it another way, the bridge is more expensive on a per-person basis in low-population areas.

"But we still need need bridges here. Likewise, we need colleges," declared USU Eastern Chancellor Joe Peterson in a speech last week to the Carbon County Chamber of Commerce. Peterson told the gathering that the college and the community are both "resource stressed," and that the university and college both want to prevent inevitable disappointments on both sides from harming the good relationship.

He recalled that during the early days of the USU-CEU merger, the faculty in Price looked over the university's mission statement and found the phrase, "dedicated to the principle that academics comes first." The faculty wanted that to read, "academics first, community always."

But even with a mission that "prepares the people that revitalize the region," there has to be a recognition that the college can't be all things to all people. It simply cannot, with limited resources, offer all the degrees and certificates that area businesses might like to see.

Peterson listed three criteria used in designing the college's curricula:

First, the courses have to offer something that students will attend. Programs leading to hazardous materials certification and electronics might have led to employment upon completion, but there simply were not enough students interested to justify continuing them.

Second, the college is looking for courses of instruction that will satisfy the job market. And not just any jobs, he added, but jobs that will provide a family-sustaining wage. There is high student demand for cosmetology classes, for example, but the bulk of the students may be taking them to be able to open a small home business.

Third, it's a question of basic capacity. The college, like the community it serves, is small.

The way to make the most of the limited resources of both college and community is to continue the conversation between the two, Peterson said.

One major change he would like to see on the campus landscape is a new building - "something iconic"- to be built on the site of the old Main Building, visible from downtown along 400 East. The current music building and Geary Theatre are both going downhill fast, and a performing arts center for the college and community would fit the bill.

The odds of that happening get more favorable if the college could get some contributions that would leverage state funds, he added.

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