Utah now has one of the few business schools in the nation named solely for a woman

Salt Lake Community College will use a $10 million donation from philanthropist Gail Miller to expand and modernize its business school.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Gail Miller speaks during a ceremony marking the donation and naming of the Gail Miller School of Business at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.

Salt Lake Community College’s business school is now named for business leader and philanthropist Gail Miller — making it the only one in Utah and, the school says, one of only a few in the country named exclusively for a woman.

At a Thursday ceremony to celebrate the naming and Miller’s $10 million donation to SLCC, she said she is “humbled by the opportunity to help others achieve their educational goals.”

SLCC students “are essential to not only our current workforce, but to the future economic growth of our state,” Miller said. “We are able at Salt Lake Community College to pivot when needed to help fill the gaps in the business world.”

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) Salt Lake Community College President Deneece Huftalin speaks as a banner is unfurled marking the donation and naming of the Gail Miller School of Business at SLCC in Taylorsville, Thursday, Oct. 20, 2022.

Miller, now considered an “emeritus trustee,” has been a major donor to the school for decades and was a trustee from 2013 to 2017. She has a net worth of $4 billion, making her the richest person in Utah, according to Forbes.

In 1979, she and her husband established the Larry H. Miller Company as a single car dealership. But their enterprise spread to encompass companies in health care, finance, entertainment and other fields. When Larry Miller died in 2009, she became the chair.

SLCC President Deneece G. Huftalin noted Miller was one of only four women to own and run an NBA team. Larry Miller bought the Utah Jazz franchise in 1985, and the Millers owned the team exclusively for 35 years.

The Larry H. Miller Group of Companies sold 80% of the Jazz to a group headed by Ryan Smith, co-founder of the Qualtrics software company, in 2020. The Miller company sold additional shares this year.

Miller’s new donation will cover an upcoming renovation and expansion of SLCC’s business building, which will be renamed the Larry H. & Gail Miller Family Foundation Business Building.

Based on Forbes’ rankings, Miller has given away between 1% and 4.99% of her wealth.

“I think Gail has always been known, and should be known, for her philanthropy, but she’s a really amazing businesswoman,” Huftalin said in an interview after the announcement.

SLCC’s business school, which opened in the 1980s, is now the second most popular field of study for students. The school reports having more than 60,000 students in total, at eight campuses across the Salt Lake Valley.

The school’s business building “was state of the art in 1986, when high-tech was a self-correcting type writer,” Dennis Bromley, dean of the Gail Miller School of Business, told the audience.

The college will offer a scholarship to a female student of West High School, where Miller graduated, to attend the inaugural year of the business program.

“In 2017, Gail also challenged the college to pursue our first ever multiyear fundraising campaign to benefit student scholarships and student success programs,” Huftalin said in an announcement.

Thursday’s donation took the college from $34.4 million to $44.4 million in funding, she said.

Across the country, women are attending college at increasing rates. But in Utah, 32.7% of women age 25 or older had completed a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 36.6% nationally, based on state numbers from American Community Survey data.

However, general enrollment in undergraduate institutions has increasingly favored women, following a national trend. The University of Utah saw the enrollment of a record-breaking 2,779 freshman women this fall out of 5,520 total first-year students — that’s 50.3% women.

SLCC’s business school currently has 3,012 male students and 1,959 female students — making it 60% men and 40% women.

As the second to serve as president of SLCC, Huftalin said she has had students approach her to say that “just seeing someone that looks like them” is inspiring.

To have about 20,400 business students see their school named for “not just any woman, but a woman who has been highly successful in our community, is just amazing,” Huftalin said.

While most of the state’s public universities have largely rebounded from enrollment drops they saw during the pandemic, SLCC is in the third consecutive year of declines, according to data released this week.

That decline is a concern, with the school considered one of the most affordable and accessible in the state, and with the most diverse student body of any of the eight institutions of higher education here.

SLCC lost the biggest share of students this fall, with its enrollment dipping by more than 800. It went from 27,225 enrolled in 2021 to 26,348 students now, according to the annual fall enrollment numbers released Monday by the Utah System of Higher Education.

There are six other business programs in the state named for individuals, including the Bill & Vieve Gore School of Business at Westminster college in Salt Lake City, which was named after a couple who earned their fortune through the invention of water-resistant Gore-Tex.

The others are the David Eccles School of Business at the University of Utah in Salt Lake, the John B. Goddard School of Business & Economics at Weber State University in Ogden, the Jon M. Huntsman School of Business at Utah State University in Logan, the Woodbury School of Business at Utah Valley University in Orem, and the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University in Provo.

The Marriott School of Management is ranked No. 36 in the nation, according to U.S. New’s lineup of best business schools, and Eccles is ranked No. 40 — the others are unranked. Eccles and Goddard are ranked No. 27 and No. 151, respectively, for their part-time master’s in business administration programs.

Correction • 11 a.m., Oct. 21, 2022: This story has been updated to correct the number of students in the business school.

Leto Sapunar is a Report for America corps member covering business accountability and sustainability for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep him writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.