BY HEATHER DALEY
With Gov. Gary Herbert calling for two-thirds of Utahns to have a post-secondary degree by 2020, the pressures on higher education in Utah are growing but the state budget is not giving any more to education than in years past.
Utah Valley University President Matthew Holland, a BYU graduate and former BYU professor, recognizes these problems and is prepared to find a solution. As the president of what is now the largest public university in the state of Utah, Holland faces the challenge of handling growth while building academic quality of a school in Orem that began as a trade and technical college and progress to a community college and then a state college before becoming a university three years ago.
“There’s lots of chances to decide which direction we go and ways that we might do things, these really fun opportunities to set new directions and paths,” Holland told The Universe in a recent interview.
Holland has been president of UVU since June 2009, when he left his job as a professor of American Heritage at BYU to take on the challenges of guiding the Orem school through its new status as university.
Though he now works at the school across town, Holland used to be a student himself at BYU. He graduated in 1991 as the valedictorian for the political science department and said his education there has helped him now as a university president.
“When I was at BYU, I was effectively a double major in political science and English and there’s a fair amount of politics associated with my job,” he said. “There is a constant need for clearer communication from my office so that training I got in studying those degrees has been a big help to me for some of the duties associated with my responsibilities.”
But despite these schools residing in the same area, there are a lot of differences between the two.
“They’re at different point of history, so to speak,” Holland said. “BYU has been a university for quite a long time. UVU has become a university just a little bit ago so there are lot of things developing as they move from a state college to a university.”
And, according to Holland, each school plays a different role.
“I think BYU is like no other school in terms of ways that it reaches out to righteous Latter-day Saint students across the entire world and provides for them an outstanding undergraduate student experience with high academic expectations and opportunities for mentored research and working with faculty who are real leaders in their disciplines,” he said. “The UVU I think plays a fairly different roles but one that’s also a very distinct from a national perspective.”
Holland said that UVU is the fourth largest open enrollment institution in the nation, and is the only one to offer an equal number of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees.
“We are simultaneously providing that important community college function even as we provide the bachelors experience for 30,000 plus students,” he said. “And there are not many if any institutions in the nations doing what we’re doing on that scale that are doing things the way we are doing it.”
Since the recession and lower budget priority from the state, Holland said that funding will be crucial to the success of UVU in the years ahead.
“I think it’s going to be challenging to find additional public monies for higher education. I think that educational leaders still need to push for that,” he said. “My own view is that there is a public good and civic obligations associated to supporting higher education. Having said that, as a practical manner, I think that public universities need to become fundraising universities if they’re going to survive in this current environment.”
Though he has his work cut out for him in the years ahead, Holland said his experiences at BYU were an important part of his life.
“I’ll just say that I absolutely loved my BYU years as both an undergraduate and a professor and just find that the training that both the students and professional training I got there were simply outstanding and have provided some terrific opportunities for me,” he said. “The best opportunity of my life so far is to have served as president of UVU. It’s an institution filled with some really remarkable faculty who are committed to undergrad teaching and it’s populated with some of the brightest and friendliest students I know.”