USU president Stan Albrecht and Interim president of CEU, Mike King celebrate the merger with cake and festivities.
With the exception of one house member who said he had philosophical differences with junior colleges being absorbed by four year institutions, the Utah State House of Representatives voted to merge the College of Eastern Utah and Utah State University into one school on Thursday morning. Last week the Utah State Senate unanimously did the same thing and so now all it will take is the swipe of the governor's bill signing pen and the whole thing will be legal.
"This is probably the most significant event in the 72 year history of the College of Eastern Utah," said CEU interim President Mike King during a celebration in the House of Representatives Board Room on the east side of the Utah State Capitol Building an hour after the vote took place. "Up to this point this plan has taken a lot of work and will take even more work until July 1 when the change will take place. Even more work will need to be done after that to make it a success."
The CEU campus, both in Price and Blanding will be led by a chancellor that will report to USU President Stan Albrecht. The search for someone to fill that position started on Friday as an announcement of the open position was placed by USU across email channels.
The process of what has become known as "the merger" has been going on for about two years. Declining enrollment numbers and economic hard times were the catalyst for the idea. At one point some in the Senate were talking about closing the Price/Blanding school, but the USU alternative has saved the Price school and may well revitalize upper education in the eastern Utah area.
It took less that 15 minutes for the discussion on the house floor to lead to a vote. House members, some who had questioned the idea last year, were almost all on board.
"This move really allows our school to extend its role as a land grant university," said Albrecht after the vote. "We have traditionally operated through extension campuses but this brings a whole new way of operating to both us and CEU."
The school will be known as CEU-USU and will be an independent college of the USU system. In that, and many other ways, it will be different from campuses in places like Vernal, Brigham City and Tooele. The school will have athletic teams, keep their mascot, and operate as a junior college in many ways.
CEU was established by the state with much local support in 1937. The school originally was known as Carbon College and up until 1959-60 the campus in Price was shared by the college and Carbon High School. In 1957, during an economic downturn then Governor J. Bracken Lee (a native of Carbon County and a former mayor of Price) tried to close the school and succeeded in getting the legislature to go along with him. Local opposition to the closure was strong and community organizers were able to put an initiative on the ballot late that year to keep the school from being closed. The state's voters cast their ballots and when the dust had cleared they had resoundingly said they did not want the school shuttered.
With the construction of a new public high school just up the street from the college a couple of years later, the school, which was then affiliated to a certain degree with the University of Utah, began to change. A few years after the high school split off, the school changed its name to the College of Eastern Utah.
Thursday's vote meant continuance of higher education in the area for not only local students, but for those who want to come from other areas and attend a school that will offer a degree that will be a Utah State University degree. Recruiters and administrators from USU were on the CEU campus on Thursday talking with students about staying in school at the institution. Retention will be a big topic of conversation for a long time at the Price school.
One of the largest sticking points in all the negotiation that has happened in the last year over the merger was the possible tuition rates. CEU has traditionally had the lowest tuition of any state college for some time.
"It's in the MOU (memorandum of understanding) that a student will still pay a lower tuition for the first two years of their education," said King. "Then they can stay at the school and take classes to finish their bachelor's degree. That further tuition would be paid at the USU rate."
The bill to make the change was dubbed SB 69 when it was presented to the Senate Education Committee by Senator David Hinkins (District 27) early in the session. After it passed the Senate vote it was sent to the house where it was presented by Rep. Patrick Painter (District 67) and supported on the floor by Rep. Christine Watkins (District 69). Hinkins is the representative in the Senate for Grand, Carbon, San Juan and Emery counties and both Painter and Watkins represent the area too.
Standing with his arms around the shoulders of King, the CEU mascot Emmett and the USU mascot Blue, Albrecht said that move would provide some great opportunities not only for students, but for jobs and industry in the area.
"We talk a lot about this being value added," he said. "From the beginning we talked about how we had a great institution in Price and now we bring in USU and it will even give more opportunity."
Already there appears to be plans to utilize the strength of Utah State's research and development arms to embrace CEU and bring additional monies in the form of grants to the school for various kinds of research projects. Nothing specifically has been named, but the feeling is that it is only a matter of time.
In the last two years, CEU has lost nearly 40 employees due to budget cuts and student enrollment decline. However, this year enrollment is up, as it is among all the colleges in the state. There is hope that the USU affiliation will also help with recruiting from outside the area.
Albrecht also pointed out that with the addition of the enrollment at CEU, the branch and extension campuses of Utah State now have as many students as the main campus in Logan.