This year enrollment at Utah State University’s (USU) Moab campus is higher than it has ever been.
This growth comes as the campus adds a number of new programs to its curriculum. Administrators hope to see both the number of courses, and the number of students, continue to increase in the years to come as they work towards breaking ground on the new campus southern edge of Moab.
“Enrollment has jumped up 30 students this year over a year ago,” said Dr. Steve Hawks , the dean and executive director of USU Moab. “We’ve got just over 160 students, which represents about a 400-percent increase over the last five years.”
The push to grow USU Moab began over five years ago with the inception of the Moab Higher Education Action Team (HEAT). The group was formed to create a vision for the future of higher education in Moab that incorporated broad representation from the local community.
When the group first met, the USU’s satellite campus in Moab had only 45 students and no faculty.
“I think the success of the college is really based on the support of the community,” said Sam Sturman, the associate director and academic advisor for USU’s Moab campus. “Over the last five years we have finally been able to sell our story to the community. The community really realizes the value of higher education in the community. It is this town-down relationship that makes us work,” he said.
Support from the USU hierarchy has also been key, Hawks said.
“There is a high level of recognition at USU, up to the president’s office, that Moab has a lot of potential. There’s a lot of recognition that if we expand our presence we will definitely see more growth here,” he said.
The combination of USU and community support has led to the Moab campus’ expansion into programs that either use the area in and around Moab as a major component of the curriculum, or that train students in areas that are seen as critical to the local economy.
Programs like recreation resource management and hospitality and tourism management fall into the first category. The curriculum in these courses gives students hands-on training in their field working with government agencies and local businesses.
Programs for certified nursing assistants (CNA) and certified medical assistants (CMA), as well as a two-year nursing program that is almost set up, are designed in part to help train medical professionals to work in the area. USU works with Moab Regional Hospital to train these students and has hired some hospital staff as adjunct professors.
“We have a great relationship with Moab Regional Hospital,” Hawks said.
USU Moab also offers a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in social work.
“We have a full time social work faculty member in Moab,” Hawks said. “That was a push from the community, saying we have lots of social service issues, lots of non-profit agencies that deal with social issues, and we need that social work background to fill positions in those areas.”
There has also been an increase in concurrent enrollment; students from Grand County High School who take college level classes. In many cases these students are able to leave high school with all of their general education requirement classes finished.
Sturman and Hawks both hope to see more of these local students staying in Moab to complete a full degree as more programs are offered.
Technical certification programs are now being offered at the USU Moab campus. Students can earn certification in a number of technical fields, including information technology and web design.
“We have never had that piece before. We’ve (always) gone from high school to four-year degrees,” Hawks said.
Though USU Moab now has around ten full and part-time faculty positions, most of the classes are still taught via video link and interactive video conferencing with professors at other USU campuses across the state.
With new and expanded course offerings, USU hopes to attract a different type of student to its Moab campus.
“We are undergoing a mild transition in our demographics. Historically our average student was 35, married and with children, working full-time and taking night classes,” Hawks said. “This semester we probably have 15 to 20 traditional students who are going to USU Moab as their college experience.”
Teralin Petereit is one such student who moved to Moab to get a degree in recreation resource management.
“I came here to live in a place where I get hands-on experience. I’m able to get out of the classroom a lot and I learn best with hands-on experience,” she said. “It might not be nearly as social as going to a big campus, but I would definitely trade that for the experience I am having, and for living in a place like Moab.”
This shift towards more students coming from out of town, Sturman said, is one that USU Moab needs to make if it is going to continue expanding.
“We are never going to get enough students here with just our local population,” he said.
To that end USU has started a marketing campaign, featuring Petereit, to raise awareness of what their Moab campus has to offer. So far ads have only been run locally, but in the coming months USU Moab will have television and print ads displayed on the Wasatch Front.
“The message is come here, live in a neat place, get a great education, and move into a career,” Hawks said.
While growth continues at USU Moab’s current facility, plans are moving along for the new campus south of town.
Earlier this year the City of Moab was awarded a $1 million grant from Utah’s Small Urban Road Fund. The grant will go towards improving the intersection of Mill Creek Dr. and Hwy 191 south of Moab. The intersection that will eventually host the entry road to USU’s new Moab campus.
Construction on the intersection is expected to begin in 2016, and Hawks hopes that construction on phase one of USU Moab’s new campus will begin that year as well.
The State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Land Administration (SITLA) is in the final stages of transferring ownership of their land to USU for the Moab campus. Once the transfer is complete, USU should own the rights to develop the new campus.
Phase one of the new campus is designed for a student body of 500 to 700 students. The $15 million price tag for this first phase of construction will cover both academic and residential buildings. Funding for the project has been pledged by the Walker Family.
The 30-year, seven-phase master plan, which is a projection of how big the campus could grow on that location, predicts the campus could eventually house 3,500 students.
Although USU Moab will be pushing in the coming years to get a higher portion of its students from outside of Grand County, Hawks promises that USU will always stay a part of, and continue to serve, the Moab community.
“Even though we do see our growth being dependent on people coming in from the outside, we will never lose focus of the Moab community and the needs that we have for economic diversity and economic development,” he said. “So we will always be providing programs that meet local needs.”