In 2010 George Wythe Foundation announced a new feasibility study to re-evaluate the viability of the land donated in Monticello, Utah as a potential campus site. In the wake of a strained global economy and with new leadership on the Board of Trustees, appropriate business practices dictated that due diligence be performed with greater rigor prior to continuing such long term commitments. This higher level of prudence is particularly worthwhile for the sake of students, alumni, faculty and other stakeholders and supporters who depend upon their educational institution being thoughtful, strong, and viable.
Based on national and state economic indicators, local market realities surrounding the property, and market survey data we collected from the GWU community, enough new research was performed by early 2010 to lead us to make a preliminary decision. At that time we announced that Monticello did not appear to be a viable location for a full campus, and that we would continue our study to determine if other possible options existed on a more modest scale for a feasible and appropriate use for the site. We have since completed this study, paying close attention to continuing trends, future indicators and market feedback.
Our findings confirm that a location in Monticello is unlikely to support a viable campus in the foreseeable future, particularly one with the mission of a classical liberal arts school like George Wythe University. Our research further indicates that even a modest campus would be unlikely to succeed at this location. Instead, an abundance of more accessible and realistic alternatives align substantially better with our mission. Consequently, we have chosen to focus only on those locations that truly fit our unique purpose and to return the Monticello land to its donors. Following is a summary of factors that have led to this conclusion.
1. Survey interviews conducted across a broad cross section of the GWU community revealed that over 95% of respondents would be less interested in attending school in Monticello compared to the present Cedar City location. In fact, preferred locations to Cedar City were frequently reported as well which consistently included the greater Salt Lake City area, Phoenix, Southern California and a number of others. The remaining 5% of respondents were primarily neutral. These were not particularly supportive of Monticello, but simply were interested in having a larger campus in general. When offered a choice of location, only a few enthusiasts could be found outside of the handful of local supporters in Monticello and San Juan County themselves.
2. Reasons most frequently cited for lack of interest in Monticello included the remoteness and difficult access from major interstate corridors, lack of economic activity, extreme winter temperatures and lack of internship opportunities for students. These factors posed substantial barriers to relocation for more than just students; they handicapped the prospects of hiring and retaining qualified, high quality faculty and administrative personnel as well.
3. Public perceptions of the Monticello area’s historic trend of economic and population stagnation were confirmed by the realities of statistical data collected by the Governor’s office of Planning and Budget, their official projections through the year 2040, real estate markets and other data sources. Even in the midst of Utah’s recent two economic and population boom decades, San Juan County was one of only three counties in the state to actually experience a decrease. This is especially true in the demographic segment under the age of 40—the most vital market for colleges. GOPB projections anticipate little change in this trend for several decades.
Because future prospects indicate very little enthusiasm for new in-migration to Monticello—including from within the surveyed GWU community—we have no reliable evidence to support establishing a viable Monticello campus with our classical liberal arts focus. It is true that the natural physical assets of the area do possess qualities conducive to outdoor recreation and camping, with sublime value in and of themselves, but these qualities are not exclusive to the remoteness of southeastern Utah. Nor are they paramount or necessary for achieving the goals of the education GWU promotes for building statesmen. The simple truth is that these features are likewise found in many other locations that possess more practical amenities and attributes, and which are more accessible. Supplying an immediate abundance of richer student opportunities becomes particularly important when considering their need for gaining hands-on experience in leadership internships, etc. The report instead recommends that we give serious consideration to Salt Lake City, Phoenix and other state capitals, and presents a case for these being more advantageous to students even than Cedar City.
These findings do not suggest, however, that the Monticello location would not be a viable and appropriate fit for other industries. Agriculture, ranching, recreation, tourism and manufacturing do exist in the area to varying degrees, and the feasibility study examines data that may also be relevant for other industries considering potential uses for the land, but it is beyond the scope of our report to speculate in depth beyond our own industry and mission.
That being said, we sincerely extend our gratitude to the donors who originally offered the land, and also to the gracious communities of Monticello and San Juan County for their supportive efforts since 2007. We wish all who have been involved the very best in finding viable future projects.
We encourage all who are interested to read the feasibility study in its entirety.