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Editorial: WSU shows how regional universities work for Utah

Published January 4, 2014 1:01 am

Regional universities vital to Utah
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

Weber State University will celebrate 125 years as an evolving community-based institution of higher learning next week with a variety of activities.

WSU is one of Utah's four regional/comprehensive universities that fulfill a necessary role in preparing Utah students to compete in a global job marketplace. Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah Valley University in Orem and Dixie State University in St. George provide the same type of educational service in their respective communities.

While the Beehive State's two research universities — the University of Utah and Utah State University — focus on graduate programs and research, the regional universities concentrate on individual undergraduate education. That means they follow an open-access philosophy of accepting students at all levels of academic achievement and then helping those students meet their education and career goals by providing remedial courses and counseling when needed. Most also offer advanced degrees in select fields — 11 at WSU.

Weber State University serves northern Utah and has grown from an LDS Church-owned high school to a state-operated university with about 25,000 students. Its evolution has taken it from a community college offering vocational training as well as associate and bachelor's degrees to its present form: a respected institution on a lovely campus on the Ogden foothills with an expanding Davis County branch and a downtown Ogden campus.

WSU offers undergraduate programs in the arts, humanities and sciences — nursing is its most popular major — as well as professional study in education, business and technology. It offers specialized certificates in applied technology education. Utah's other regional universities offer similar programs.

WSU and its sister institutions are the workhorses of Utah's System of Higher Education. But in terms of funding, they lag behind peer institutions in other states. That neglect will have to change if Utah higher education is to meet the needs of businesses for trained employees.

The State Board of Regents recognizes the vital role these universities play and understand that, with additional state support, they can provide the momentum to help reach the goal set by Gov. Gary Herbert and the Utah business community: to have 66 percent of all Utahns with college degrees or vocational certificates by 2020.

Called "mission-based funding," the idea is that all institutions with similar missions should receive the same per-student funding near the median for such universities nationwide. It's an idea the Legislature would do well to support.