SALT LAKE CITY — Dixie State University moved one step closer to reality Wednesday as members of the House Education Committee unanimously voted in favor of a bill that would grant university status to Dixie State College.

HB61, sponsored by Rep. Don Ipson, R-St. George, passed with little discussion and no comments from the public. The matter will now go before the full body of the House for consideration.

"This is a great day for southern Utah and the southwest part of our state," Ipson said. "As we work through this, to become a regional university community, we're going to preserve the Dixie College way and the community college mission."

Since 2008, officials at Dixie have been working to meet a series of benchmarks laid out by the Utah State Board of Regents, such as expanding the number of baccalaureate degree offerings and the percentage of teaching faculty with doctorate degrees. 

"The Board of Regents is fully satisfied that Dixie has met these benchmarks and is ready to take this next step," said David Buhler, commissioner of higher education.

The name "Dixie State University" was selected by the school's board of trustees on Jan. 18. That decision came after school officials launched an online survey in which a majority of students, faculty and community members expressed that "Dixie" should remain a part of the school's new name.

On Jan. 25, the name was approved by the Utah State Board of Regents, as was university status for the school.

To many, the transition represented an opportunity to sever the school's ties with the name "Dixie," which is a reference to the traditional nickname of Utah's southwest region but, some argue, carries a negative connotation associated with racism and slavery.

None of the discussion at Wednesday's committee meeting addressed the naming controversy. Instead, committee members briefly expressed their support before voting on the bill.

"There's been lots of hard work, sweat and tears, and many people in the southern part of the state will benefit from this," said Rep. Francis Gibson, R-Mapleton, committee chairman.

Prior to recommending HB61 for approval, the committee amended the bill at Ipson's suggestion. The amendment modified the funding language in the bill to allow for a more current review of financial need and also changed the date the bill would take effect from July 1 to the potential date that Gov. Gary Herbert signs it into law.

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