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Utah Valley University set to become largest school in the state

Published May 18, 2013 1:00 pm

Enrollment • School is expected to grow 48% to almost 47,000 students over the next decade.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Utah Valley University is slated to overtake the University of Utah as the public institution with the largest enrollment in the state over the next decade.

The head count of the school's student body is projected to grow 48 percent by 2022, making it about 10,000 students bigger than the U., according to projections released Friday by the Utah System of Higher Education — a prediction that comes as the state's flagship school raises its admissions standards.

As a whole, the state's public colleges and universities are projected to add 37,000 full-time students over the next 10 years.

"That's a significant number of new students," said David Buhler, commissioner for higher education. "If we improve the completion rates, that will go up even more."

The expansion will come from Utah's brisk population growth as well as Gov. Gary Herbert's push to increase the portion of Utahns with some post-high school certification to 66 percent by 2020.

Analysts predict there will be almost 47,000 students at UVU by 2022, compared with about 31,600 now. Though about a quarter of those would be part-time students, the 32,000 full-time UVU students alone would still make the institution the largest in the state.

To accommodate that growth, administrators are planning to expand both physical facilities and online learning.

"We're probably running out of room on the main campus," said UVU President Matthew Holland.

Though UVU is taking an enrollment hit due to Mormon students leaving for missions after the LDS Church lowered its age limits, the school has been growing steadily in the years since it attained university status in 2008. More students are staying to finish four-year degrees there, Holland said.

Officials have already started developing a 100-acre parcel near Utah Lake at the former home of Geneva Steel and are looking at additional property in the Payson area.

"We feel like we're on track to make this work, and make it work successfully," Holland said.

But the school also has less than half its budget coming from public money — the lowest portion in the state. That's something Holland hopes will change.

"If we're expected to be a growth institution … we have to be funded," he said.

Meanwhile, at the U., President David Pershing said his school's projected 1 percent annual growth over the next 10 years isn't a bad thing. "I don't want to get big just to get big," he said.

Though he said applications were up this year after the U. joined the Pac-12, the incoming 2013-14 freshman class is the first to face new admissions standards that focus on character and community involvement as well as test scores and GPA.

"We want to admit students that are going to be successful at the U.," Pershing said. Incoming freshmen who are more prepared are expected to drive up retention and graduation rates.

As the U. becomes more selective, Snow College is seeing more students head to its Ephraim campus from southern Salt Lake County and the Wasatch Front.

"We're seeing a huge incoming freshman class this year," said President Scott Wyatt, a surge that is helping to cushion the effect on the heavily Mormon school of the lowered mission age for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"They want to get out of the traffic," he said. "They want that residential experience."

The highest full-time student growth rate is projected at Weber State University, which President Charles Wight attributed mainly to higher college enrollment among Hispanic students.

"We're definitely going to have to build some new buildings," he said. "We're also going to have to find new ways of teaching."

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst