Providers of career and technical education in Utah faced off with higher education Tuesday as they defended a desire to maintain an independent institution.

"Community colleges are the most market-driven higher educational system in the United States," said Salt Lake Community College President Cynthia A. Bioteau, speaking on behalf of SLCC's role in offering CTE for Utah's interested students. She said the ability for a community college to respond to and provide for the needs of local labor markets is essential to the economy.

Bioteau's presentation to the Higher Education and Applied Technology Governance Committee included recommendations such as an equalization of funding to all career and technical education programs in the state, based on the courses offered and not the region they're offered; a required accountability for students actually placed in jobs following CTE training; and to determine ways to blend and leverage resources "as opposed to perpetuating or building competition," she said.

Throughout Utah, career and technical education (CTE) is offered in different ways and in most cases, the service is efficient. However, in Salt Lake and Tooele counties, previous reports have found overlap. Former Commissioner of Higher Education Rich Kendell recommended a consolidation of efforts to better serve students in the region and alleviate competition and duplication of resources.

The potential merger, along with other issues, has sparked heated conversation about vocational education and has led to the formation of the committee. They are charged with determining a viable governance structure for UCAT and defining its role and mission to the state of Utah.

Mary Shumway, career and technical education director for the State Office of Education, said much of what secondary education students need can be and is being taught by the applied technology colleges in regions of the state, but there is overlap and some gaps left in some areas.

"We're here to prepare the student for the next steps," she said. "We take them as far as we can."

A majority of secondary students receive CTE training within their school district, but the number of students served by UCAT is growing, Shumway said, adding that districts rely on UCAT for advanced course instruction.

Don Ipson, chairman of the UCAT Board of Trustees, asked the committee to create "an independent state-level board to oversee the system of technical colleges." The board, which he said is already in place as trustees, would then have the oversight to perform duties currently delegated to the Board of Regents — specifically, the appointment of campus presidents and approval of degree programs.

"As I see it, you're going for all the advantages and none of the disadvantages of a community college," said Rep. Lori D. Fowlke, R-Orem. Such a move would require additional accreditation for the college.

UCAT, Ipson said, "had the wrong players when it was started." With the "quality of leadership" in place now, he said "if you leave it alone, it will all work itself out."

A response from Utah's current Commissioner of Higher Education Dave Buhler was postponed until the committee's next meeting, in two weeks, due to time constraints. Co-chairman Rep. Kevin Garn, R-Layton, did say the discussion had been "pitted against" the system of higher education, but that the information was helpful in determining the future of technical education in Utah. The committee plans to meet again on May 27 at 9 a.m., at the State Capitol Building.

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