Optimism for future describes CEU plan

Posted Thursday, November 15, 2007 - 12:00am

"The 2007-'08 school year opened with a great deal of optimism about the future of the College of Eastern Utah," according to a report filed with the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), CEU's accrediting agency.

CEU serves primarily a four-county region consisting of Carbon, Emery, Grand and San Juan. More than 17,000 square miles and a population of 52,000 support the 20 percent of people in the primary college age group, which ranges from 18-29 years old. While most students come from the surrounding area, a key to success will be the ability to draw students from around the state and country, the report stated.

CEU entered the 2007 legislative session with three policy goals: eliminate debt on auxiliary housing, restore the unified mission of the college and the Southeast Applied Technology College (SEATC), and obtain funding for a partnership with Utah State University, according to the report.

Beyond approval of a new mission and debt relief, CEU received a funding increase of 27.5 percent in a year where Utah's nine traditional colleges averaged a 14.3 percent increase in ongoing state funding. Of the $3.8 million in new ongoing funds given to the college, $1 million was earmarked for the partnership with USU and another $1.5 million came from the existing SEATC budget. Although 65 percent of the new funds were identified for specific legislative directed priorities, the enhanced college mission brings economies of scale to both campuses (Price and San Juan) while opening opportunities to expand services in other parts of its service region.

CEU is located in a rural region that is largely dependent on extractive industries – especially coal mining and power generation. After seeing 10 percent population growth during the '90s, the first decade of the 21st century will show population declining by more than two percent. Another impact to the college is the drop in school-age children, reported the document.

Also the turn of the century brought a "perfect demographic storm" where local demographics combined with other factors that negatively impacted the college's enrollment. While the number of potential students locally dropped in total, the state legislature and board of regents made a series of decisions that further impacted enrollment," the document continued.

The first decision was the dramatic push of concurrent enrollment upon high school students. Not everyone takes advantage of the 75 percent tuition scholarship offered by the state but those that do, don't need to attend a two-year college like CEU. Small colleges are feeling the pressure of dropping recruitment pools because many high school students are graduating with an associate's degree as well as a diploma.

"Grand County requested that the regents designate a single-service provider in Moab. The county preferred to use USU Extension to provide select four-year degrees, resulting in CEU enrollments from Grand County falling to negligible numbers. The legislature provided $1 million for CEU to partner with USU to offer affordable lower-division classes leading to a bachelor's degree. A significant piece of the partnership will focus on Moab and Grand County.

"In an attempt to solve a problem with career and technical education in urban parts of the state, the legislature created the Utah College of Applied Technology as a statewide provider of non-credit training. The new law transferred a substantial part of the college's mission to a new state institution and created a situation where two state entities were forced to compete with each other to provide educational services. Following a detailed analysis by the regents, the legislature realized the futility of funding competing institutions with a limited population base and folded the Southeast Applied Technology College back into the career and technical education division of the college," the report continued.

A booming economy focused on the extraction of coal, oil and natural gas is driving up wages around the state. This boom entices students to put off college to pursue a high paying job. A cycle of work and rest makes obtaining a college education difficult at best from a time and cost aspect, continued the report.

Although the past three years have seen a decline in CEU enrollment, this year marked a change with a rise in headcount and FTE from residents. This is a result from college recruiters touring high schools around the state. In addition, students who have taken 20 or more credit hours and not obtained a degree have been identified and contacted in an effort to draw students to CEU to fulfill their requirements for graduation.

"The college is focusing on strategies to attract out of area students and encourage local students to enroll and "take an extra hour." Only 18 percent of CEU students from Utah come from outside the four-county service region. CEU is examining its tuition structure to encourage students to enroll for an extra class or even an extra credit hour. The college's tuition plateaus at 12-credit hours (tuition is the same for those taking 12 to 18 hours). Regent Policy 510-4.3 allows for tuition plateaus to begin at 10 credit hours – adopting that policy may provide an incentive for students to take additional classes.

"The college's non-resident participation is hampered by state policy in regard to tuition. CEU President [Ryan Thomas] has taken a leadership role with the regents process to reevaluate non-resident tuition policy.

"The college is stuck in a policy no-man's land as its non-resident rates climbed to 4.2 times resident tuition (violating the first clause) but can find no relief other than to raise resident tuition to meet the 3.5 criteria (since non-resident rates cannot be lowered). It seems likely that the tuition policy will be revised this year with the prohibition on reducing rates removed and the multiplier reduced to three times resident tuition. There is discussion that would allow state colleges (not universities) to reduce non-resident tuition further if they can demonstrate additional capacity.

"The two pronged approach to get local students to take more classes while trying to attract out of area students is driven by local demographics. CEU is by far the state's best provider for its region on a percentage basis. Of students in the CEU service region attending a public state college (CEU, Snow College, Utah Valley State College, SLCC, or Dixie State College), three- quarters of them are attending CEU. With the new CEU-USU partnership in Grand County, these numbers should move higher. These data are based on all enrollments – including upper-division students at UVSC and DSC. "Retention rates at CEU track closely with national averages for open-entry, two-year public colleges. The college's student population mirrors that of other community colleges – students work more hours, take fewer classes and come from the local area.

"Two key external factors impact retention as well. First, many of our students leave after one year to serve missions for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Although the actual number of students is small, it often surpasses 10 percent of our freshman class.

"Second, Utah encourages students to take concurrent enrollment – a program where students to earn fully transferable credit for no charge while enrolled in high school. While this impacts all nine state colleges and universities negatively, four-year state institutions at least receive an opportunity to use the class as a "loss leader" in hopes that a student will persist to a four-year degree. For Utah's three community colleges, the concurrent enrollment program essentially gives our product to customers for no charge with little hope of recovering those students later.

"Even with the challenges presented from these external factors, President Thomas believes improvement is possible and is developing an effort to maximize retention. The college will designate an individual to coordinate all efforts (and take responsibility for outcomes):

·Improve data management/reporting efforts

·Enhance training for registration staff

·Engage faculty in specific activities

·Engage trustees to set specific goals for improvement

CEU maintains a small staff that manages fundraising. Over the last four years the average donation (not including in-kind) averaged $1,200. Fundraising efforts have been directed at scholarship development although the college has several requests in to foundations for assistance with a capital project.

"The college is pushing to get to 500 donors within two years while maintaining the $1,200 gift average. The development program is expanding awareness through a variety of community sponsorships and with the launch of a CEU license plate that directs funds into the scholarship program.

"During the NWCCU visit, the administration shared information with the accreditation team regarding staffing issues that placed a burden on the business office. The staff shortage resulted in financial statements delayed for two years. CEU completed its FY 2005 financial statements and received an unqualified opinion from the state auditor. In the past year, the business office was restructured, hired qualified staff to manage day-to-day operations and focused on timely reporting. This year the trustees enacted a debt policy for the college that places rigorous reporting requirements on the administration and sets a conservative view toward debt acquisition.

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The only way CEU can achieve success is if USU helps the college. Its past history shows it cannot make it without help.

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