A newly drafted bill aiming to clarify lines between higher education and career and technical education may potentially blur them more, and a committee has been directed to work it out.

Previous efforts by the two higher-education levels have failed to come up with a solution, although both agreed to expand statewide articulation to make career- and technical-education courses more universally accepted by colleges and universities in the state. Seamless transition would be the goal, "so students are not disadvantaged in any way," said Dave Buhler, interim commissioner of higher education in Utah.

The working draft, proposed Tuesday by the Office of Legislative Research and General Counsel, addresses a possible new governance structure for what is currently the Utah College of Applied Technology. It also redefines various terms associated with administering such education.

"It would essentially create two boards within one system," said Dee S. Larsen, associate general counsel.

Determining an alternate for how career and technical education is administered is one of a handful of issues the Higher Education and Applied Technology Governance Committee is discussing in meetings this year.

Since April, officials from UCAT, as well as other institutions within the Utah System of Higher Education, have been addressing legislators while working together on a viable solution "that will hopefully encourage Utah citizens to pursue a post-secondary education" and "move Utah forward in designing and delivering high-quality career and technical programs," said UCAT President Rick White.

"The most important thing is to come up with the best governance structure to help promote career and technical education in the state of Utah," he said.

The draft bill "is a different proposal from what UCAT trustees originally requested," White said, adding that it may contain some positive elements, but also elements of serious concern for UCAT.

Instead of being called a college, Larsen proposes that the group appointed to direct career and technical education in Utah be called an "authority" and UCAT's various regional colleges be called "campuses" to maintain congruency with UCAT's "limitations on degrees and credits," he said. The new board would include members of the career- and technical-education community, as well as governor-appointed business and industry leaders, who would essentially help guide education to meet the needs of Utah's work force, Larsen said.

Uintah Basin Applied Technology President Paul Hacking told the committee the bill in its current form would perhaps be "a step backwards" for career- and technical-education offerings in Utah, perhaps even to the point of compromising the college's accreditation and autonomy.

Other UCAT officials also expressed some concern with the draft bill, saying that everything the college had worked to obtain in the past 30 years would become obsolete if amendments to the bill are not made.

Lawmakers, however, remained optimistic that discussions will lead to some coordination.

"In a broad sense, we are headed in the right direction," said committee chairman Rep. Kevin S. Garn, R-Layton. He added that the objective is to obtain clear governance, along with a clear mission and role for institutions offering career and technical education.

The committee is scheduled to meet again Aug. 8.


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