Letter to the Editor: Dixie State provost on creating a premier university for southwest Utah

Provost Michael Lacourse speaks at Dixie State University board of trustees meeting, St. George, Utah, Nov. 3, 2017. Lacourse is the author of a series of letters to the editor about the future of the university. | File photo by Jeff Richards, St. George News

LETTER TO THE EDITOR — The economic and cultural vitality of a growing region depends upon the resources and rich talent pipeline supplied by the local university.

Dixie State University, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2019 | File photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

To provide the requisite number of talented graduates across multiple professions in a growing economy, universities must recruit and retain the most capable faculty and staff from across the globe and supply them with the resources to provide transformative learning experiences for their students. Creating a learning ecosystem and campus culture that continually attracts diverse students, faculty and staff requires careful planning and thoughtful consideration of the steps needed to amplify and reinforce that attraction.

With its unprecedented growth since transitioning to a four-year university seven years ago, Dixie State University is well-positioned to become a premier educational institution serving the rapidly growing population of southwest Utah with talented graduates and resources that advance the economic and cultural vitality of the region.

Demographers predict that the Washington County population could reach nearly 500,000 by 2050. To put this population size into perspective, American cities with current populations hovering at 500,000 (excluding metro areas) include Atlanta, Sacramento, Kansas City, Miami, Raleigh and Omaha.

Located within most cities of this size, you will find one or more universities featuring enrollments of 20,000 or more students with premier programs and resources designed to significantly influence and enrich the regional economy and culture, while providing access to a range of exceptional educational opportunities. A sample of universities located in the comparable cities include Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, University of Missouri at Kansas City, University of Miami, North Carolina State University, Duke and the University of Nebraska — some of the most respected and impactful universities in America.

Based on Washington County growth projections, there is less than 30 years to establish DSU as a high-performance university that will be home to hundreds if not thousands of exceptional faculty and staff. DSU will need to graduate the most talented scientists, engineers, managers, educators, health care professionals, artisans and leaders that can support the advanced industry sectors currently targeting Washington County, as well as local businesses and organizations that typify a region of 500,000 people. That is very little time to achieve so much, but that is the goal.

DSU faculty and staff recognize the urgency and have responded to the need to build a high enrollment-high impact university by adding 111 academic programs in five years. We recently established a new institutional mission and vision that will transform the university by supplying the framework for serving a much larger and more diverse student population, while also advancing regional economic growth and vitality by preparing highly skilled and work-ready professionals.

We based the new mission and vision on four fundamental design characteristics consistent with emerging trends in higher education and the likely future of work:

  • Open education.
  • Inclusivity.
  • Comprehensive programs and services.
  • Polytechnic academic model.

Blending the basic features of these four characteristics will yield an American university unlike any other by creating broader and more inclusive access and opportunities for all individuals, regardless of background or academic ability. DSU will specialize in learning pathways leading to work and careers in current and emerging professions, especially those that require advanced expertise in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

To fulfill the new institutional mission and vision, DSU must evolve and transform over the next 30 years to become a premier high-impact public university uniquely designed to sustain an economically and culturally thriving southwest Utah.

Submitted by MICHAEL LACOURSE, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Dixie State University.

Ed. Note: This is the first in a three-part series of Op-Eds from Lacourse on the future of Dixie State. Read part two here and part three here.

Letters to the Editor are not the product of St. George News, its editors, staff or news contributors. The matters stated and opinions given are the responsibility of the person submitting them. They do not reflect the product or opinion of St. George News and are given only light edit for technical style and formatting.

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