Dixie State University (DSU or, colloquially, Dixie) is a public university in St. George, Utah, the county seat of the state’s Dixie region. Dixie is a regional moniker referencing the South that dates back to when settlers with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints tried to make the area a cotton-growing mecca in the 1800s.
The lower-elevation area of southwestern Utah, on the border of Arizona and adjacent to the Mojave Desert, has a very mild climate compared to the rest of Utah. Mormon pioneers, some of whom had come from the Southern states, began growing cotton and other temperate cash crops there in the early 1860s. These settlers called the area Dixie as a symbol of their Southern heritage and identity, since it was the southernmost part of Utah and the cotton fields reminded them of home.
This once-remote part of Utah is surrounded by mountains, cliffs and canyons, and the few roads into and out of the community were rough and rugged. But for a short while Utah’s Dixie cotton industry flourished, partly due to the Civil War and its interference with growers in the southern U.S. The historic cotton mill near St. George was the largest factory west of the Mississippi at that time.
It wasn’t until the 1950s when the area got improved roadways, and Interstate 15 was completed in 1973. The city of St. George is now among the fastest growing cities in the country. As a side note, despite being physically and culturally cut off from the rest of civilization, the Mormon temple in St. George is the oldest continually operating one in the world.
Dixie’s institution of higher education began as St. George Stake Academy, founded in 1911 by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (LDS Church). Later it became a state school of the Utah System of Higher Education. Until 2000, it was a two-year junior college named Dixie College. In 2000 the institution was renamed Dixie State College. In February 2013 the school officially became Dixie State University.
In November 2021, after ongoing controversy over the use of the term “Dixie” in the school’s name, the state legislature approved a bill that would allow the school to become Utah Tech University. The school plans to start using the new name in July 2022.
“I kind of think we’re headed towards being a tech school, especially with the new SET building, we’re getting a lot more toward STEM majors and people wanting to pursue that as well,” said student Seal Matalolo.
DSU Student Body President Penny Mills said, “I think the name Utah Tech will really help us grow into the name we have for the vision.” But “locally everyone is still going to call it ‘Dixie’” she added. Most of the locals consider the term to have a unique regional meaning separate from the history of slavery.
At the center of DSU’s main campus is Encampment Mall, where Mormon pioneers first camped when they arrived in 1861 to settle and grow cotton in the desert. A new 120,000-square-foot state-of-the-art Science, Engineering & Technology facility opened ahead of the Fall 2021 semester. The building houses 28 specialized labs and classrooms, as well as three levels of outdoor patios including an astronomy deck.
The Hurricane Education Center campus extension in the small town of Hurricane, the gateway to Zion National Park, is located 20 minutes east of the primary campus. The HEC serves as the official location for the POST Academy (Peace Officer Standards & Training) for Southern Utah and is the official state skills testing site for the DSU Nursing Assistant program. The facility also has a Testing Center for students who live in or around the Hurricane Valley area.
St. George is a conveniently located base camp for Zion National Park and many other outdoor adventures. You can hike through red rock valleys at Snow Canyon, see Martian landscapes at Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park, explore the sandy expanses at Red Cliffs National Conservation Area, and visit the St. George Dinosaur Discovery Site at Johnson Farm. St. George is less than 2 hours from Las Vegas, approximately 3 hours from the Grand Canyon North Rim, and less than 4 hours from Salt Lake City.
Dixie State University offers 4 master’s degrees, 45 bachelor’s degrees, 11 associate degrees, 44 minors, and 23 certificates/endorsements. As part of Dixie State’s “active learning, active life,” approach to education, the university has added 111 academic programs since 2015 and 85 percent of them are in the STEM or healthcare fields, in line with the institution’s polytechnic mission.
In the fall of 2019, there were 11,193 students enrolled at DSU and the university had an 80% acceptance rate. The student body was 56% female and 44% male, and Dixie State was among the top three institutions for diversity in the state of Utah with 23% of the student body being minority students.
While DSU is open to many different types of students, they must demonstrate college readiness by submitting ACT, SAT, or Accuplacer scores. Prospective students should first determine which category of student they are:
- New Student – A matriculated student who has never attended any college or university, including students who earned credit before graduating from high school.
- Transfer Student – A matriculated student who, after high school graduation, attended another college or university and did not attend Dixie State University.
- Returning Student – A matriculated student who previously attended Dixie State University after high school graduation but has not attended in three or more semesters, including students who may have attended another college or university since they were enrolled at Dixie State University.
- International Student – A matriculated or non-matriculated student who is not a U.S. citizen and has not received immigrant status from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.
- Non-Degree Seeking – A non-matriculated student attending college classes for personal interest, enrichment, or growth.
- Homeschooled – Taught at home using other approved curriculum and certified by Parent/Guardian.
- Early Enrollment Students – Students whose class has not yet graduated from high school and who meet at least one of the following qualifications:
- Are currently enrolled in high school and want to attend university classes (on their own — not concurrent enrollment through the school district).
- Are homeschool students whose class has not yet graduated from high school.
- Have been officially released from Utah compulsory school attendance requirements.
The Dixie area of Utah has a thriving homeschool population, so DSU is naturally homeschool-friendly. The 2021 DOCUTAH festival featured Weirdos: A Homeschool Documentary, filmed by DSU staff member Matthew Black and produced by his wife Amanda. Weirdos follows the story of the town’s journey to build a strong support system for homeschooling families. The Blacks’ film offers a unique glimpse into why so many families choose to dedicate their time, resources, and hearts to this lifestyle, fueled by a passion for creating opportunities that nurture a love of learning. Through an in-depth look into the contemporary history of homeschooling, the community approach, and the benefits of individualized learning, Weirdos leaves you wondering who really are the weirdos: those who choose to homeschool, or those who do not?