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Reflections on a future USU Moab campus…

Posted on: Apr 19 2013

One of my foremost goals as associate dean and executive director of the USU Moab Education Center is to work with key stakeholders toward the development of a substantial USU campus within our community.
This goal stems from a sincere belief that having a USU campus in Moab will offer the community robust, long-lasting benefits. Most importantly, it will create new opportunities for our children to continue to live in Moab as they pursue academic goals and engage in challenging and exciting careers of their choice.

In order to realize the broad dream of a college campus in our midst, a few minor details needed to be worked out. Those included: Where will the campus be located? What programs will be offered? And how will all this be funded?

At USU Moab we quickly realized that these were questions best answered by the larger community, and so an open invitation community group known as the Higher Education Action Team (HEAT) was assembled almost four years ago. The HEAT included representation from local city and county governments, the Grand County School District, USU and CEU administration, the state School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA), the USU Moab Advisory Board, local businesses, and community members at large. After approximately 18 months of regular meetings that included various assignments and reports, a clear vision emerged.

Location: It was proposed that a future USU campus be located on a parcel of SITLA land just south of Moab. Programs: High priority academic programs fell into three categories. The first category involves essential degree programs needed to fill local positions in education, business, and social services (positions that are often difficult to fill with outside candidates). The second category involves the development of world-class academic programs that take advantage of Moab’s unique setting, for example, programs in natural resources, recreation resource management, tourism and hospitality management, geology, film, etc. A final category involves the development of more short-term vocational, career, and technical education programs in such areas as allied health, computer skills, and high demand trades.

Funding: The ultimate question of how to pay for all this is an ongoing discussion that takes into consideration USU Moab’s state line appropriation, student tuition and fee revenues, donor gifts, and potential loan/grant combinations from the Utah Permanent Community Impact Fund Board (CIB) or other state and federal sources.

Subsequent to the HEAT report, substantial progress has been made on all fronts. A 40-acre USU campus location has been finalized on SITLA land south of town. The land has been annexed into Moab city and a comprehensive master plan for a campus has been completed. To support priority programs, two full-time faculty members have been hired at USU Moab – the first faculty ever – and a third is being recruited. A generous $15 million gift from the Walker family was announced in September 2011, and plans are being made to submit CIB and other state/federal funding requests.

In short, due to tremendous community support in the visioning process we have already made substantial strides toward the development of a new campus. In general, public comments have been overwhelmingly positive. Infrequent concerns have been expressed about the availability of student housing, and the capacity of our utility infrastructure to support a campus development. Both of these concerns were raised early and have been addressed thoroughly in the master planning process (including the development of student housing on adjacent SITLA land as demand begins to develop).

A final concern, expressed by one or two people, is that a college campus will change Moab. If freezing Moab in time were an option then I wish someone had done it in the year 1912. As a child, the stories my grandparents told me of Moab during the early part of the 20th century captured my imagination, and that time period has always seemed particularly romantic and ideal to me. An unchanging Moab not being an option, however, it remains the responsibility of our generation to shape change in a way that will benefit our community in the most profound way possible.

Few things will promote long-term positive change in Moab to the extent that might be accomplished by the creation of a college campus. My heartfelt thanks goes out to all who have been part of steadily moving this dream toward reality.

Steve Hawks is the associate dean and executive director of USU Moab.

Research shows that young people who live in rural towns with a college campus have a more vibrant vision for their lives, enjoy more community pride, have a stronger sense of self-identity, and are more community oriented. A college campus also offers our place-bound working adults an avenue to pursue education that can enhance their employability, income, and overall quality of life. Youth and adults with training, education, and high-level skills attract new employers to the community, and often create new business ventures of their own. Civic pride, economic diversity, job creation, and long-term economic development will move forward hand in hand with the establishment of a new campus.