OREM — Since the Utah Legislature officially made it a university in 2007, Utah Valley University has sort of become a victim of its own success.

Now three years into being a state university, UVU finds itself having to strike a balance between handling substantial enrollment growth and growing as a university.

"UVU is at a crossroads in that it has just become a university; we've been a university for three years, and the question is, 'What kind of university will it become?'" UVU President Matthew Holland said Friday.

Officials say they have found a novel approach in dealing with growth while still remaining a university that takes in anyone who applies.

Since becoming a university, UVU's student population has grown by 19 percent, to 32,670. This includes part-time students and students entering into certificate and two-year degree programs. But by 2020, UVU officials project the student population will expand to 46,340.

According to national education statistics, UVU is the fourth-largest open admissions, public, higher education institution in the nation.

Holland said UVU is faced with growth that many other state universities have experienced, but leaders are choosing to not take the traditional route. In an effort to control enrollment numbers, some universities place strict standards and criteria on enrollment.

"We have enough students enrolling that we could do that," Holland said. "Yet, the state needs us to be a point of access to higher education."

The Utah Board of Regents has indicated that UVU is to be a higher education institution accessible to anyone wanting a better education. "We want to continue that policy," Holland said. "We need more students getting into higher education, not less."

Starting in the fall of 2012, UVU will implement a new "structured enrollment" policy. While remaining open enrollment, Holland said new standards will be implemented. Applicants age 23 and under must score at least a 19 on the ACT and have a 2.5 GPA. Students age 24 and older will be expected to meet the minimum requirements on the Accuplacer entrance exam.

Those who do not meet the standards will still be accepted, Holland said. However, those students will be placed on a track where they will meet with an academic counselor and must take additional remediation and development courses. Before these students can move into upper-division courses, they must pass 24 credits of 1000 level and above with a 2.0 GPA.

Admissions deadlines will also be moved up a few weeks to Aug. 1, 2012.

Holland said he sees UVU as being a place where students will still enroll in a certificate or two-year degree program, but can then move up into pursuing a bachelor's or select master's degrees all in the same institution. He doesn't envision UVU taking the route of the University of Utah in becoming a university focused heavily on research.

UVU's plan has received the support of a rather surprising person: former University of Utah President David Gardner.

"What UVU is attempting to do is pretty unique in that it wants to maintain an open door for those who want to attend a community college. On the same campus, affording students the opportunity to stay there and move into a university position," Gardner told the Deseret News.

By creating a fusion of community college programs and higher university courses, Gardner said UVU will become increasingly important to Utah by offering higher education to students at a relatively low cost.

"The have a very ambitious sense of what they can do. If they succeed, it will be of importance to the state," Gardner said.

Holland said UVU will continue to see its core mission as educating students, and not pursuing research.

"Education is a bridge. It's a bridge to the future. It's a bridge to professions and a better life ... so, we're trying to build a bridge that is bigger and more sturdy."

E-mail: gfattah@desnews.com