A bill that would put the fate of career and technical education in Salt Lake County in the hands of Salt Lake Community College was adopted in draft form by lawmakers Tuesday.

The Higher Education and Applied Technology Governance Committee adopted the bill in concept, after several months of discussion regarding the governance and delivery of trade and apprenticeship skills training and after "forming strategic alliances," said Rep. Ron Bigelow, R-West Valley, who helped draft the bill.

"We've come up with something that both sides are going to support generally at this point," he said, adding that multiple meetings involving all stakeholders were held to arrive at the proposed legislation.

Officials from the Utah System of Higher Education, the Utah College of Applied Technology, Utah State Office of Education as well as legislative committee members believe the draft is a change, albeit not exactly the one each was looking for.

"While this certainly is not our first choice, we really need to stop a war," said Tom Bingham, member of the UCAT board of trustees. He said the current solution is "what is best for our students. We need to get on about the business of career and technical education ... and be done with all this disruption and noise."

With acceptance of the compromise, UCAT officials committed themselves to further developing programs that coincide with industry needs and "preparing the work force of the 21st century," said UCAT President Rick White.

The proposed bill outlines new responsibilities for the UCAT president, including appointing campus presidents and determining salaries.

At the same time, it would rescind some powers of the state Board of Regents regarding UCAT and career and technical education programs offered at some colleges and universities. The board could not order further feasibility studies for other campuses or regions of UCAT, therefore safeguarding existing locations from future mergers.

"While it's not the bill that would have come out of our office, we feel it is a fair compromise," said Dave Buhler, associate commissioner of higher education. He said the bill establishes clear governance, which has been a source of contention since UCAT's founding in 2001.

The new legislation further clarifies UCAT's mission as providing noncredit career and technical education to students throughout the state while allowing opportunities to work with higher education and public education institutions.

The Salt Lake-Tooele Applied Technology College will stand alone in Tooele County, while SLCC will take over career and technical education in Salt Lake County, absorbing the Salt Lake Skills Center. The result is a similar merger proposed in a bill sponsored by Rep. Kory Holdaway, R-Taylorsville, during the 2008 Legislature.


E-mail: wleonard@desnews.com