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Just 10 days after being picked to lead Utah's network of technical colleges, Sen. Aaron Osmond announced that he is stepping away from the job and also resigning from the Senate next week.

Osmond said the decision has nothing to do with questions he raised last week about the "achievability" of the governor's "66 by 2020" initiative, which calls for two-thirds of Utahns to have earned some sort of secondary diploma — from welding to medieval literature — by 2020.

A legislative audit released earlier this month accused Osmond's once-future employer, the Utah College of Applied Technology, of inflating its graduation and certification numbers to reach that goal.

At a meeting of the Education Interim Committee last week, Osmond did not join other members' discussion of the audit specifically, but he said he did not believe the state as a whole had made enough progress toward the 2020 education deadline.

Osmond said he made the "gut-wrenching" decision to withdraw his name from the confirmation process on Friday, after receiving an unexpected counteroffer from his current employer. He'll become the general manager of Certiport, which provides career-oriented certification exams to schools, including UCAT branches.

"This decision does not come as a result of any doubt in the UCAT system nor of any concern that I would lack confirmation votes in the Senate," Osmond said.

UCAT's current president, Rob Brems, is delaying his retirement, which was set for the end of the year, "until everything is settled and a new president is selected," said UCAT spokeswoman Elsa Zweifel. He'll also be postponing the mission he was set to serve in Barcelona, Spain, for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Zweifel said.

There's no immediate deadline to find a replacement, she said. "They're going to take their time and do it right."

Osmond was among four finalists for the post — including one five-time finalist — but Zweifel said the search process will begin anew.

"The board of trustees mentioned that they really liked Aaron Osmond, they were impressed with him and what he could do, and they want to find someone with similar qualities," she said.

The South Jordan Republican's resignation from the Legislature will be effective Dec. 1, at which point a special election can be held to replace him. He'd originally planned to resign Jan. 4, the day he would've begun his role as UCAT president if he'd received Senate approval for the post, but the timing was too close to the Jan. 25 start of the legislative session, he said, and would have left any replacement at a disadvantage.

That decision took place well before Certiport made its offer — which Osmond said he did not expect or ask for — but the company made it clear he would still need to resign from the Legislature, he said. His new role comes with expanded responsibilities that preclude him from taking off for the 45-day session, he said, so after nearly four years as a lawmaker, he'll have "no role or involvement with the state," which comes as bittersweet. "I really love serving as a legislator."

But after weighing the facts and praying with his family, he couldn't turn away from the "exciting" opportunity with Certiport, which he said is giving him additional resources to expand the company. He made his decision Friday and then had a "difficult conversation" with UCAT over the weekend. Its trustees have been patient despite the timing, Osmond said, and are "confident that the board will find a suitable replacement and that the great work of its campuses will continue uninterrupted by this change."

The other finalists were Utah Valley University's Academic Outreach Director Darrel Hammon; UCAT's Davis campus President Michael Bouwhuis; and Bouwhuis' deputy, Russell Galt, vice president of the Davis campus.

In 2007, Brems resigned as UCAT president in the wake of an audit that found that under his leadership, UCAT's Mountainland campus in Orem built a parade float for the Utah County Republican Party, initially using the college's money. The audit also found that Brems was given a $157,000 transition package after his first promotion to UCAT president and under-reported his income on tax forms.

UCAT trustees reappointed Brems to the position in 2009 but revisited his selection just weeks later, after the hiring process was publicly criticized. After interviewing both finalists, the trustees voted for Brems 7-5 over Bouwhuis, now a five-time finalist for UCAT president.

Twitter: @RachelTachel

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