With their ducks finally in a row, the Board of Regents will head to the Legislature next month with a plan to merge the College of Eastern Utah with the much larger Utah State University.

It's a process that has taken more than a year and five committees and task forces to finalize, but regents voted unanimously Friday to accept a memorandum of understanding written to lead the charge. The memorandum stands to be the collective document from which future policies will be made regarding the new comprehensive regional college, based in Price. Although lawmakers have yet to sign off on the merger, Commissioner William Sederburg said the regents met little resistance along the way.

"It's intended to answer a very basic set of questions and present the legislative format by which to move ahead," he said. "The heart of this merger is to expand higher education opportunities in southeastern Utah."

A failed attempt to merge the two institutions during last year's legislative session left many questions unanswered and community members feeling unsure about the changes. Over the past few months, officials from both schools have worked closely together to solve issues surrounding academics, administration, IT and student activities, among others.

"I feel the campuses have now emotionally and intellectually moved to a different stage of the transition process," said regent David Jordan, who chaired the transition committee that was formed in July after regents recommended the merger. "It's no longer a question of if, but how."

If state leaders approve the idea, the memorandum outlines details that will take the school to its next level. The new "USU-CEU" will keep its own budget, school colors and Golden Eagle mascot, as well as its own athletic program, but it will get a chancellor to lead the institution, a new Web site and a new tuition rate scale for newly available upper-division courses. An agreement has been reached to grandfather faculty into USU's tenure track program, and discussions continue on tuition benefits for employees as USU tuition comes at a higher cost.

The document, which addresses concerns voiced by students, faculty, staff and community members in Logan, Price and Blanding, is the "beginning of the establishment of trust between two great institutions," said Cory Duckworth, who was appointed by the regents to help develop the memorandum. Duckworth is vice president for student affairs at Utah Valley University.

"Both institutions came to the table determined to make something happen," he said. A simpler document is expected to be embodied in legislation to make their work a reality. Changes would not take effect until July 1, 2010, and regents hope to have a chancellor in place by then, if it passes the legislative process.

CEU President Mike King said he's been pleased with the depth of the discussions that resulted in the document.

"It has left both our campuses feeling much more comfortable with the way things are headed," he said, adding that many community members are excited for "the new opportunities that will come our way."

e-mail: wleonard@desnews.com