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UVSC wary of tech center plans

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Utah Valley State College is casting a cautious eye toward a campaign by the Utah State Office of Education to build applied-technology centers along the Wasatch Front.

And to protect turf established since the school's 1936 founding, UVSC trustees agreed in a recent planning meeting to bolster support to vocational training programs while also offering comprehensive liberal-arts classes leading to four-year degrees."This sends a message to anyone who is planning on putting an ATC in here," said trustee Marlon Snow. He said whispers quietly working through the rumor mills indicate state public education officials are considering putting an applied-technology center site in Utah County.

"We'd make a huge mistake if we forsake the trades," Snow said. "We've got a long base of building those programs."

UVSC's concern about the state public education board stretching into Utah County seems to stem from a recently released study. According to an Ohio State University report, the Wasatch Front lacks the applied education services to meet growing calls for skilled workers.

Led by President Kerry D. Romesburg, trustees contemplated at a daylong retreat what direction the school should take in the next 10 years, taking into consideration the former all-technical trade school could soon post higher enrollment tallies than most Utah universities.

Charlie Johnson, chairman of the Utah State Board of Regents, asked presidents of the nine college and universities to submit recommendations for a systemwide growth blueprint.

Johnson's request forced UVSC administrators to look at their aspirations to gain university status or cast votes to remain a state college with strong ties to blue-collar training.

While student leaders and some community members clamor for more baccalaureate and graduate degrees, officials decided to follow age-old advice: If it isn't broken, don't fix it.

UVSC's enrollment figures have not dipped since 1990, when the school switched to a 15-week semester system. This year, while the number of students taking at least one college class is down an average 6 percent, Utah Valley logged a 13 percent increase.

In addition, the number of students who are taking applied-technology courses at UVSC is up 40 percent since 1991. A new building for the college-operated Mountainland Applied Technology Center opened at the west campus in September.

"It used to be that kids were told to go (to the trade school) by their parents to get a profession," said UVSC trustee Dave Adams, owner of an auto body business. "It's not like that now. They are making a mental choice that this is what they want to do. They aren't being forced to do it. It's a choice."

Lucille Stoddard, vice president for academic affairs, said academic and applied-technology programs are "symbiotic." The two work well together for students seeking to become trained in a profession, she said.

On a national basis, Romesburg said, few institutions of higher education have both academic and trade-training programs. So far, he said, UVSC has operated both well.

But the college has its critics regarding a perceived treatment of vocational programs. Even some UVSC professors, who usually aren't caustically vocal due to the political nature of higher education, have spoken out.

Utah Valley professor Doug Bradley, who also is Utah vice president for higher education of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote in a recent education newsletter that college administrators have become too preoccupied with liberal-arts programs.

Funding and classroom space that could be given to vocational training are allocated instead to academic programs, he said.

"Can UVSC or other schools really be allowed to crowd vocational education out?" he said. "One reality is certain: Critical trades, technology and industrial education lab space is going fast, and programs will eventually follow."

As far as becoming a university, Romesburg doesn't exactly take a stand, saying he'd first like to concentrate on baccalaureate degree and trade training.

"I'd like to see Utah Valley as a university - boom - tomorrow," he said. "But that's a question I can't answer myself."