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New SLCC campus? Not so fast, technology-minded Leavitt says

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Salt Lake Community College's planned 114-acre Jordan campus could become the first casualty in the Western Governors University push.

The two-year college has spent $2 million to buy land for a satellite campus that would straddle the border of South Jordan and West Jordan. The Legislature approved $1.2 million to design a $23 million classroom building.However, Gov. Mike Leavitt wants to take another look at the need for the new campus, which would serve 13,000 students.

"I do not believe a full-scale secondary campus of Salt Lake Community College has been fully evaluated in light of the changing and advancing role of technologically delivered courses," Leavitt wrote to legislative leaders last Friday. "I would like it known that until that evaluation has occurred, I cannot support construction of the new campus."

The governor allowed funding for the new building design to go into effect last week without his signature.

SLCC officials say they back the concept of the distance learning-based WGU but are confident they can persuade Leavitt to also support construction of a modern school building.

SLCC has about 20,000 students at its main campus in Taylorsville and the South City campus in Salt Lake City. But student numbers are growing so fast administrators say they will need more classrooms within three years.

"We are pretty well maxed-out right now with the number of students we have," said SLCC President Frank Budd. "we've demonstrated the need over and over again."

Budd stressed he isn't looking to build an entire campus at this point, just one building that will provide classrooms for about 3,000 students.

But slowing campus expansion is exactly what Leavitt had in mind when he created the concept of WGU earlier this decade.

The goal is to not only to make education more widely available through electronic technologies such as satellite television and the Internet, but also to save money by not building new campuses for Utah's burgeoning student population. The number of college students in the state is expected to double by 2015, and constructing new buildings to serve those students could cost $3 billion.

WGU will have no physical campus. Instead, the 13 states participating in the school will offer classes via the Internet from existing institutions. WGU is scheduled to open on a trial basis this fall.

Budd said many of SLCC's classes are trade-oriented and impossible to teach via computer or television.

"Students need the hands-on experience," he said.

Patricia Crane, spokeswoman for the Utah System of Higher Education, said state education administrators hope to meet with the governor to sort out the issue before July 1, when funding for the building design will become available.