Scott Beck knew he was down on the farm when he stepped out of his office one day last fall and found himself hemmed in by a flock of sheep.
"There were hundreds and hundreds of them," said Beck, a Snow College computer-systems teacher who'd just moved from San Francisco to what may well be the most rural campus in America.Hay fields are within a stone's throw of the school's football field. College Avenue is the main cross-valley route for shepherds taking their flocks on seasonal moves, and the standard Snow College joke is that when the bell rings the cows come home.
But this is all by design. At 105-year-old Snow College, a block east of U.S. 89, students don't have many off-campus distractions.
"As you can see, we don't really compete with downtown Ephraim," said President Gerald J. Day, a former dean of the College of Management at Georgia Institute of Technology who beat out more than 80 other applicants for Snow's helm when it opened up in 1989.
Indeed, the town of about 4,000 - not counting the students - has few diversions aside from a malt shop and a couple of haunted houses.
This is precisely Snow's appeal, said Leslie Thurman, a 19-year-old freshman from Salinas, Calif.
"I came here knowing it would be a very small town," said Thurman. "It's nice to go to class where people know who you are and care if you show up."
"You get the teachers' attention," added Ruth Ogden, a 20-year-old who graduated this year. "It's also cheap."
Though tuition will escalate next fall from $822 to $855 a year, Snow, a public school founded by the Mormon Church and ceded to the state during the Great Depression, remains one of the best college deals around. An associate's degree is recognized by Utah universities as an equivalent for all general-education requirements, so Snow graduates can transfer as juniors when they move on.
To say Snow is a world apart is to understate things.
Doug Peterson, the school's director of security, said alcohol consumption is the biggest crime on campus. But he's handled only three cases this year. Peterson, whose entire staff consists of five part-time student workers, said serious problems are practically unheard of.
"I think somebody stole a fishing rod earlier this year," offered Day.
Snow's tranquility is a large part of what attracts some 200 Asian students from abroad to the school's English-as-a-second-language program.
"It's very safe here," said Chizuko Kanno, a student from Japan.
"There's a place for everybody," said Pat Kruger, a resident of Sedona, Ariz., who was in the Snow College class of '51. "You can belong to every club, be the president, the vice president, whatever."
Kruger said that in her day the student body was almost entirely female; today 42 percent are men.
Lynn Poulson, chairman of the department of social and behavioral sciences, said a long tradition of students interacting closely with teachers remains intact. The teacher-student ratio at Snow is roughly 1-to-20.
About 85 percent of students are from Utah, half of those from the Wasatch Front. Applications are up more than 20 percent this year, and administrators expect a record 2,450 students this fall.
They needn't worry about finding their way around. Upon arriving for a job interview last summer, Beck asked for a tour.
"I told the secretary I had a half hour," said Beck. "She said, `We'll do it in four minutes."'
This article is one of a weekly series on Utah's U.S. 89.