Utah Valley University is all about community; that’s been the case since its founding in 1941.
For decades, UVU has offered community education classes to the public — a service that continues to grow in popularity.
In 2011, there were 2,380 people taking at least one of 350 classes offered by continuing education. For 2019, those figures rose to 6,479 students taking 548 classes.
“We have a pretty substantial impact,” said R.J. Willing, UVU’s director of community education. “We have a lot of education classes. We also do a lot of fun stuff — everything from pottery to photography to woodworking. We do the basics like how to use Microsoft Office. People can still be taught by UVU staff even if they are unable to enroll in the university.
“People are learning things they have always wanted to learn but never had the chance to do. We are giving them that chance.”
It reflects both the culture of Utah County and that of Utah Valley University.
“The great thing about UVU being in Utah County is that the population of the region has a love of learning,” he said. “We are a highly educated population, well above the national average. It is already an established culture of lifelong learning.”
Those learners are in a wide variety of ages.
“We have a wide range,” Willing said. “In the summer, we do youth camps and offer over 100 each summer, including theater camps and robotics. The big thing right now is youth coding camps. For the traditional personal enrichment classes, the No. 1 demographic of the students is women who are between 35 and 50. Not far behind is the group that is 60-plus. It is a pretty even spread.”
Another thing that is pretty even is the cost of the classes.
“We are a self-sustaining program,” he said. “We are a break-even community service. The intent is not for the university to make money off of the community, but to provide the services and education.”
The staff uses several methods to determine what classes to offer.
“We listen to what the community wants,” he said. “We get a lot of feedback from those who are taking our classes. We also do a lot of market research. Right now, the ‘in thing’ is watercoloring. We cannot offer enough watercolor classes. They get sold out or filled to capacity the day enrollment starts. There are watercolor leagues and organization. It is pretty interesting to see.”
Gardening classes are also popular, he said.
“In the winter semester, we will be doing fruit tree basics — how to plant, how to prune, how to trim, and more,” Willing said. “One of our newer things is floral arrangements. It is one of the most popular right now.”
Some unusual or unexpected offerings are banjo maintenance, scuba diving, soap making, backyard survival gardening, bookbinding, basics for being a landlord, welding, and retirement planning.
Elder Quest is associated with the continuing education program, with classes specifically geared to senior citizens. With its fundraising efforts through the years, the group has provided nearly 100 scholarships to nontraditional students.
Potential instructors may also make suggestions for classes. Willing said the department gives those ideas thorough vetting before accepting them. Although they like to continually increase the offerings, one drawback is the lack of space to hold them.
“In the near future, we are going to have three locations,” he said. “We are pretty much maxing out our space in Orem. As the university grows, the space gets tighter and tighter.”
For those able to travel, there are classes offered at UVU’s Capitol Reef Field Station, including watercolor and photography. There is a writers’ weekend, for which a publisher goes to the field station and teaches potential authors in a weekend workshop. There are also other writing classes for Utah’s large population of aspiring authors, Willing said.
The chance to help others find their next hobby or passion is why Willing loves his job.
“That is why I am working here,” he said. “We are able to provide people with something they have always wanted to learn. It really does feel like it is a community service. I always wanted to participate in a line of work where we could help people do what they want to do.”