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The state budget is beyond tight, but state lawmakers need to keep future horizons in sight. The nation's economic downturn is a temporary condition. Investing in the state's higher education system will pay dividends down the road.
Low interest rates make this an attractive time to finance new construction on the state's college and university campuses. As members of the Utah Legislature mull the state's annual bonding bill, they need to give Utah Valley University's proposed science/health sciences complex special consideration.
UVU is brimming with students. As the second largest public university in the state, it has the lowest gross total square footage per student among all state institutions.
Like many of the buildings on the UVU campus, the existing science building was built to accommodate a student body of about 8,000. In recent years, UVU's enrollment has mushroomed. Its spring enrollment (full-time equivalency) was 26,322, according to newly released figures from the Utah System of Higher Education. That's up more than 3,000 students from 2009.
While some of the enrollment growth is tied to the bad economy — students returning to school to earn degrees or upgrade their skills to better compete in the job market — care must be taken to ensure that they can meet those goals. The school is already experiencing bottlenecks in certain programs, meaning graduations can be postponed as much as a year because classes students need cannot be scheduled due to a lack of classroom and laboratory space.
This is particularly true in the health sciences area, where there is a great demand for graduates in nursing and dental hygiene. But it is also a problem for biology and chemistry majors, some of whom seek careers in medicine or as science educators.
As UVU awaits bonding authorization for its proposed $50 million science/health sciences complex, more than $1 million in instrumentation has been mothballed. It shouldn't be in storage. It should be in the hands of students and educators.
Lawmakers need to make an important investment in the future of UVU but also in the state of Utah and approve bonding for the university's science/health science complex. Classroom and laboratory space is clearly needed to better serve students, faculty and, ultimately, Utahns who will benefit from lessons and skills students attain while at UVU.
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