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Regents wrestling with growth as schools request new degrees

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PRICE — The state Board of Regents, hoping to get a handle on a academic degree growth spurt that's been a little like handling a fire hose, adopted a three-tiered management policy change on Friday.

A new roles and missions committee was established, although its members were not named, to examine proposals to add degrees outside the monthly meetings of the full 15-member governing board.

A matrix designed to map potential program changes headed for board consideration will be plotted at least 12 months out. The hope is to reduce the surprise element of having proposed degrees nearly full-fledged and implemented before surfacing for approval, one of the key governing duties of the regents.

Under the new policy, the entire board will discuss proposed degree and program changes more fully rather than essentially rubber stamping proposals forwarded to regents by its academic subcommittee.

At Friday's regular monthly meeting, 10 additional degrees were up for approval and discussion. The same number received approval in March.

There is some feeling among the regents that while the schools offer adequate reasoning when pitching program additions, there is the potential of duplicating efforts rather than each campus fulfilling a particular niche in a statewide system.

Utah Valley State College's request to add three new baccalaureate degrees in chemistry, mathematics and physics instigated a long discussion about degree growth.

In reviewing UVSC's request, Cecelia Foxley, commissioner of higher education, said the rapid expansion of the Orem school might not allow new programs to mature. "Are the resources received by and reallocated throughout the college adequate to support new quality programs and sustain rapid growth?" Foxley wrote in response to the request.

Other higher education officials who reviewed the request said the fast-growing campus, which is projected to reach 26,000 students next fall, is a focal point for the statewide problem of enrollment and program growth at all campuses. But UVSC might be expanding beyond its means and could bring into question its ability to maintain its quality and accreditation, officials said.

UVSC President Kerry Romesburg and other administrators are confident their 2001-02 budget will be adequate to support hiring the new full-time instructors needed for the proposed programs plus pay for necessary laboratories and equipment.

Foxley said there are enough unknowns about the proposals and the burgeoning growth of UVSC that "the institution may shortchange its students and fail to adequately prepare them for graduate studies or jobs."

Romesburg said he disagrees with the projected effect of growth on his campus. He said accreditation is in no way brought into doubt with the request.

UVSC's mission is evolving, he said, noting that a new dean of the School of Science and Health has been hired with regents' approval to build a science program with a limited number of upper-division courses.

"UVSC often gets held to a different standard of defending and justifying what it wants to do," he said. "We're the new kid on the block, we have a little higher bar to jump at times."

Doubts about the proposal have merit, regents believe, because Romesburg reported at last month's meeting that a shortfall in funding from the Legislature to pay for student enrollment increases means the school will be relying extensively on adjunct faculty.

Officials at the state's two research universities, which operate well-established science programs and watch carefully the growth of programs at UVSC, say they believe the number and qualifications of faculty needed for the new degrees have been underestimated.

UVSC believes it is appropriate to include four-year science and mathematics programs in light of the high-profile demand by the governor to produce several times more graduates in science and technology in Utah over the next seven years.

Foxley said significant policy issues about the rolls and missions of the campuses are raised by the UVSC proposal and asked regents to decide on the degree request at its June meeting.

E-mail: jthalman@desnews.com