Stuart Johnson, Deseret News
Utah State University President Stan Albrecht, center, and CEU interim President Mike King greet the two schools' mascots as they celebrate the Legislature's vote Thursday to merge the two schools. They marked the day with cake and Aggie ice cream in the state Capitol Board Room.

SALT LAKE CITY — As student body president at the College of Eastern Utah, Willy Woodruff worried about the school merging with the much bigger and potentially overpowering Utah State University. He was sure it would mean sacrificing the notoriety the two-year college has earned for southeastern Utah and what it does for the community.

However, on Thursday, when the Legislature took its final vote on the bill that would consolidate the two schools, Woodruff said he felt OK about it.

"I know now, after all this time, that it's really going to be a good thing," he said. He's even contemplating continuing his business education at CEU, instead going through with a planned transfer to another school.

The merger — the first of its kind in the state — needed the support of the Legislature and now requires the governor's signature, but officials have already been meeting to work out the details for changes to take place July 1. In addition to the bill passing Thursday, CEU posted a want ad for its first chancellor to lead the new comprehensive regional community college under USU's direction. The search for a chancellor will be nationwide, and CEU's interim president Mike King has already said he won't be seeking the job, but plans to remain at the school.

USU already has a presence in the state's 29 counties via numerous extension services and branch campuses in Tooele, Brigham City and the Uintah Basin. USU President Stan Albrecht said he's excited about extending that responsibility even further to offer students in Carbon and San Juan counties more educational opportunity and access to four-year and graduate degrees.

"I'm excited by the doors this opens for both USU and CEU," he said. "This move assures more Utah students the chance at a high-quality higher education."

The new USU-CEU will continue to instruct students at the community college level through their second year and maintain community college tuition until students enter upper division courses. It will retain its golden eagle mascot, school colors of blue and gold, and field its own sports teams.

Career and technical education unique to CEU will remain, including its widely recognized automotive technology, welding and heavy equipment and trucking programs. In addition, USU will be responsive to the community through local advisory boards and local representation on the university's board of trustees, Albrecht said.

"A lot of tears have been shed over this," said Sen. David Hinkins, R-Orangville, who sponsored the bill. "It's a big change for everyone involved. It's been tough on the faculty, and we've lost some to the uncertainty. Times are tough, but we are thankful to the Legislature to be keeping the institution intact."

CEU was founded in 1938 and occupies a 12-acre campus in Price and a smaller campus in Blanding, serving 2,173 students. It offers more than 400 courses in 60 areas of study with a faculty and staff of 230.

USU evolved from a small, agricultural college founded in 1888 to a sprawling, internationally recognized institution based in Logan. It employs more than 850 faculty who provide education to 25,065 undergraduate and graduate students in more than 300 areas of study.