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Utah Valley’s two universities are a mere five miles away from each other but are distant in mission statements, size, student body and campus feel. Matthew Holland, a member of the LDS Church, a former BYU professor and the son of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland, of the Quorum of the Twelve, presides over state-owned Utah Valley University.
Holland said working at UVU requires him to act differently than he would at BYU. “I was very happy at BYU as a professor. … I loved teaching my courses,” he said. But Holland constantly reminds himself and others he works with “that UVU is a state institution where everybody needs to feel welcome.”
Holland was drawn to UVU because of its growth and dynamics, even though he studied and taught at BYU previously. “The more I looked into it, the more intrigued I was,” Holland said. “I’ve just absolutely fallen in love with the institution.”
State tax dollars and tuition from more than 30,000 students fund UVU. The Church offers financial support, but with no strings attached. “The Church is very supportive of the whole system of higher education in the state of Utah,” Holland said. “There are lots of LDS kids at all of our state schools here. … I think the Church therefore recognizes just how important that is.”
Chris Lee, a full-time lecturer at UVU and an adjunct professor at BYU, feels the same need to act differently at UVU. “Teaching in a public university as an LDS member is par for the course in Utah County,” he said. “I prefer to have colleagues who are not exclusively and collectively LDS … my most valued mentors at UVU are not LDS.”
Many Mormons attend UVU, and its Institute program is one of the Church’s largest. “It’s a terrific program,” Holland said. “(It) plays an interesting role … not as an official part of the campus but a pretty active and vibrant partner role.”
UVU is often considered an easy transfer school to those who were not admitted to BYU. “That phenomenon still exists, but I’m frankly not that worried about that, and I don’t think it defines us the way it used to,” Holland said.
Holland said the increase of four-year degrees at UVU has increased program attendance. “We’re very proud of our students and attracting the best and brightest,” Holland said. “Sterling scholars and National Merit Scholars are coming here as a first choice because they love the programs.”
Holland, who plans to remain at UVU for the foreseeable future, said he would like to see the school reach 40,000 enrolled students within the next 10 years. He also wants to continue to build up the university aspect of campus, even though the school is already Utah’s largest higher-education institution.
Holland said the focus on engaged learning and the dual mission statements of UVU will help distinguish it as a more prominent university for incoming freshmen.
The students on both campuses are quite different, according to both Holland and Lee. “BYU students … generally maintain a rigorous work ethic … (and) are also often driven by performance goals, sometimes to the point of obsession,” Lee said.
The focus on engaged and practical learning is UVU’s main goal. “These are great places for a lot of Latter-day Saints to go and get an education and prepare themselves for life and industry and service,” Holland said. The focus of the majority of their programs is to bring the workplace into the classroom to give students real-life experience and skills.
UVU students experience a different classroom environment than those at BYU. “UVU students are often much more open to less structure and more independence in decision-making regarding their work,” Lee said. He also said he has noticed UVU students’ lack of motivation often leads them to struggle academically.
Holland said he is happy where he is both in his career and in his personal life. He has said he has no preference of where his four children attend college, whether at UVU or BYU or one of the other higher-education institutions in Utah, and will leave the choice up to his children. “I’ve told them that’s entirely up to them. … I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do.”