A potential merger of Utah State University with the College of Eastern Utah has community members squirming while lawmakers have put a hold on drafting a bill to make it happen.

After community outbursts and an abundance of questions, Sen. Mike Dmitrich, D-Price, has put a hold on a bill that would give USU governance over the community college. He said the issue has snowballed into a controversy when the college might have been able to benefit from what a major university could offer.

Dmitrich has said no legislation will go forward that would potentially damage the college, which he sees as one of the community's greatest assets.

"I will not push it if it's not in the best interest for the students or the institution," Dmitrich said, "and I will not push it until Rep. Brad King is on my side." King, D-Price, who also works at the college, has said there are too many questions to be answered before talk of a merger can go forward.

USU President Stan L. Albrecht indicated in a statement that circulated recently on the Hill that he would support the legislation only if it benefited both institutions and their constituencies.

The idea is that a merger would better serve students in the greater Carbon community by giving them access to more upper-division and graduate-degree programs, as well as federal research dollars and an association with a major university. The bill will include a clause that would maintain CEU's open enrollment policy for the first two years, as well as tuition rates for lower-division courses.

CEU would retain its athletic programs, and the Board of Regents would have jurisdiction on when and how the merger is implemented.

USU, Albrecht stated, could benefit by opportunities to enhance programming to areas of the state that currently have more limited opportunities to participate in such programs as business, education, natural resources, geology and entrepreneurship. Albrecht said the university could also expand USU's programs in energy resource development and extend benefits to more rural areas of the state.

The proposed legislation provides for a transition plan that would address questions of governance and administration structure, faculty qualifications and compensation, career and technical education, student support services, program development, funding issues and other issues relating to the potential merger, he said.

Dmitrich said making a merger happen would require increased funding, and the Legislature would have to be on board. It isn't the first time such a proposal has been discussed, as Dmitrich said local officials have talked about other options during past sessions. His bill would also include a name change, to Utah State University College of Eastern Utah Campus.

He called CEU a "major asset for the community," adding that when Carbon County's natural resources become depleted, "we'll still have our community college fueling the economy there."

CEU President Ryan Thomas issued a statement containing successful merger models exhibited in nearby states. He said a possible merger between USU and CEU has been in the works for a number of years and was "prompted primarily by concerns about the financial stability of CEU." The college was encouraged to work out such issues independently as a merger would most likely not include any additional operating funds. Since talks began, financial stability at CEU has improved, but enrollment numbers are still low and lawmakers have had to bail the school out of various debts over the years.

Concerned students and faculty met with Thomas during a community meeting Wednesday, with Dmitrich, King and members of the Board of Regents listening in via teleconference. Questions regarding programming and job cuts abounded, while Dmitrich said he sees no reason for dramatic change in the current structure of the college.

"This is far from being done," he said, adding that the Legislature has been exploring the merger for years.


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