The president of Southern Utah University — who has refused to increase tuition for the last three years in his singular mission to save students money — announced Monday that he will step down at the end of the summer.
Scott Wyatt’s departure comes after he has led the Cedar City school for eight years, beginning in 2013. Of the current public college presidents now serving in the state, he has the longest tenure in the top spot.
“I am immensely grateful for the years I’ve had at Southern Utah University,” Wyatt said in a statement. Along with his wife, Kathy, he added: “Part of our hearts will stay in Cedar City forever; we will remain supporters of the university for the rest of our lives.”
Wyatt will leave his post in August. The Utah Board of Higher Education said it will not wait and plans to immediately begin searching for a successor. The board intends to name an interim president to serve in the meantime in the coming weeks.
The search for a new SUU leader will be happening at the same time as the board continues to look for a new president for the University of Utah, after Ruth Watkins stepped down in April to take a job with a national education nonprofit.
The hope will be to have permanent leaders in place at both schools by the start of next year.
Wyatt will be staying in Utah, accepting a position with the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education here. He will be in charge of running a new initiative to expand online options at the state’s eight public universities, as well as the eight technical colleges. That’s an approach he championed at SUU, doubling the online courses there.
The school also recently announced a new and one-of-its-kind online bachelor’s degree in general studies. It is designed for students who got some class credits and then dropped out. They can get a diploma virtually for $75 per credit — or about $9,000 total.
It’s believed to be is the least expensive college degree offered by any public university in the nation.
While Wyatt will continue those efforts statewide, SUU will lose its biggest advocate for affordable education and someone who has overseen the largest period of enrollment expansion ever at the southern Utah school.
Over the last six years, SUU has grown from 8,200 students to 13,000. That includes a gain of roughly 1,300 students during the pandemic when others school saw significant losses.
In the last three, despite that, tuition has remained flat — with no increases at the request of Wyatt. And the last year, the president actually decreased fees so the overall cost of attending went down, which is largely unheard of in higher education. The price is now about $6,700 per year for the average in-state student.
That’s $3,000 less than the most expensive public university in the state, the U., which competes with SUU regionally in research.
At the time, Wyatt said the school had been able to reallocate funds to cover its expenses. He wants everyone to be able to access college — and not have cost be a barrier to enrollment.
“That has become a majority priority for us,” he noted.
He didn’t mention that one of the measures to save money came when he gave up his own office.
Wyatt and other leaders also offered to forego their salaries the past academic year, if needed, when the budget was strained due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That didn’t end up being necessary. But Wyatt has long been willing to do whatever it takes to keep college affordable and accessible for students from all backgrounds, said Rich Christiansen, the chair of SUU’s Board of Trustees, in a statement Monday.
And, Christiansen said, he’s done it “without sacrificing quality.”
Christiansen didn’t say whether the school would keep that focus without Wyatt, but he did highlight Wyatt’s attention on also increasing student scholarships and graduation rates. And he pointed out the partnerships Wyatt built between the university and the National Park Service, as well as the local no-kill animal shelter in Kanab.
Before taking the helm at SUU, Wyatt served as president of Snow College in Ephraim for five years, starting in 2007. He was also a member of the Utah House of Representatives from 2005 to 2007.
Wyatt has been all over the state, too, working as a partner in a northern Utah law firm in Logan and being elected the Cache County attorney.
With Wyatt leaving, the longest serving president among the eight public colleges in the state is now Richard Williams at Dixie State University, which will soon be renamed.
In the last three years, there has been massive turnover in the leadership of the schools here, including new presidents at Utah Valley University, Weber State, Snow College and the U. — which will now go through the process a second time in that same period with Watkins’ recent departure.
A board will be responsible for putting out a job description for a new leader at SUU and then reviewing those who put in their names. It will narrow it down to between three to five candidates for the public to weigh in on. The U. is still at least a month away from that point in its search.