Utah State University president Noelle Cockett and vice-provost Rich Etchberger visited the location of a new Moab campus on Nov. 9. [Courtesy photo]

Utah State University officials are reaffirming their commitment to building a new regional campus in Moab.

On Nov. 9, USU President Noelle Cockett, Utah legislators, Moab and Grand County officials, and USU-Moab administrators and advisory council members met at the school to discuss strategies and sign a Memorandum of Understanding for the new campus.

The current regional USU-Moab campus is located at 125 W. 200 South, where the city hall was formerly housed. Community leaders have wanted a new college building with an expanded campus for more than a decade, said Moab Mayor Dave Sakrison.

“The needs have grown – we’re looking to site a real campus (off U.S. Highway 191),” the mayor said.

For 45 years, students have been able to acquire a college education at the USU-Moab campus. However, the current building is small and the school is outgrowing the facility, said Lianna Etchberger, executive director of USU-Moab.

Founded originally as land-grant institutions for the purpose of disseminating agricultural-related university research to farmers, USU’s regional campuses evolved to provide an array of academic programs where students could earn a college degree.

USU-Moab offers six different associate degrees, 23 bachelor’s degrees, 23 master’s degrees and one doctoral degree in education, as well as many certificates, licensures, and professional education endorsements. There’s also an electrical apprenticeship available through the college.

While Moab does not have an actual technical, or trade school, students can learn automotive technology, professional bookkeeping, digital design and many other skills and trades through the university’s certificate program.

“We’re doing some pretty amazing stuff in this little building,” Etchberger said. “We are filling all of these needs. We’re educating lots of people.”

Though Moab’s college population is relatively small (roughly 100 to 120 per semester) local instructors broadcast their lessons statewide, to reach students at other regional campuses, Etchberger said.

A new master’s degree in public health was recently added to USU-Moab’s 22 other graduate programs. Former dean and executive director Steve Hawks returned to teaching and has been developing the public health master’s program – which is offered throughout the USU system – not just in Moab, Etchberger said.

In addition to general education courses there are classes designed specifically to suit Moab’s culture and landscape – subjects related to outdoor education, the tourism industry, land-use policy, the Colorado River and sustainability issues, Sakrison said.

“It’s kind of a niche campus that ties in with what Moab is,” the mayor said. “It’s unique in the USU system.”

Thanks to a concurrent enrollment program that allows high school students to take classes that count toward both high school and college credit, 27 percent of USU-Moab students are under age 18. Twenty-two percent of students are 18 to 25; 13 percent are 26 to 30; 20 percent are 31 to 40; 13 percent are 41 to 50; and 5 percent are students over the age of 50 – an age distribution found similarly at other state campuses.

A new campus will serve as a “symbol that the community values education,” Etchberger said. Plus, “having a university here helps train the workforce; and it helps with economic diversity.”

The new campus will be designed for energy efficiency, she said.

Etchberger said she looks forward to new academic programs being added in the future. For example, the current building does not allow room for students to earn a biology degree because there’s not enough space for students to perform lab work, Etchberger said.

“One thing that is important as we move forward – we’re thinking about new programs with the new campus – that will benefit the community and provide jobs,” she said.

Adjacent related projects

Half of the estimated $10 million required to build a new campus on 40 acres about 3 miles south of downtown Moab will come from USU; the other $5 million will be raised through fundraising in the community, Etchberger said. She was reluctant to say how long that may take, but said that the university, city and county are definitely moving forward on the project.

The city and county have committed to providing the infrastructure needed to build on the undeveloped property, Sakrison said.

“There’s an educational, economic development, and housing component to this whole project,” the mayor said. “It’s a holistic approach to housing issues – for students and families.”

Two Moab businessmen, Mike Bynum and Shik Han, have plans for building a 196-unit apartment complex adjacent to the future campus – housing that will be available for both students and local residents. Phase one, which will include five buildings – one of which will be devoted specifically to affordable housing under city guidelines, is projected for completion in 2018. Employers will be able to secure long-term leases at a reduced rate to provide affordable housing to their employees, Bynum said.

The existing zoning on the property allowed for overnight rentals on first floor units, and although short-term rentals can be lucrative for landlords, the developers went to the city council to get that waived, “so that the entire building would be dedicated to long-term housing for local employees,” Bynum said.

Bynum and Han are also talking about building, adjacent to the campus, an Innovation Center of Moab (ICOM) – a business incubator-type facility – to help foster diverse, new and emerging companies in Moab. The center would work in conjunction with the university. Engaging in public-private enterprises is the most effective and efficient way to get things done, Bynum said.

The project, which is still in the formative stage, has received encouraging, positive responses from the city, state and university, he said.

Han cites three fundamental pieces of a healthy community – a good hospital, education and housing.

As the recently retired Moab Regional Hospital board president and chair, Bynum helped make the new hospital happen, Han said.

“Now we’re involved with the other two areas,” he said. “It’s a holistic approach to enhance the economic landscape in Moab. USU has been a great partner in this early process.”

New college campus, housing, business development center all in the works for Moab

For more information about the new USU-Moab campus, visit: usu.edu/campuses/moab/donate/.