Utah Business Staff

August 1, 2012

Utah’s education system faces many difficult challenges, from reduced funding to meeting the needs of tomorrow’s workforce. The state’s education leaders discuss the many challenges and opportunities inside Utah’s classrooms, specifically the state’s goal to have 66 percent of all Utahns earn a certificate or degree by 2020.

We’d like to thank Vicki Varela, president of Varela Strategic Communications, for moderating the discussion.

Michael Hardman, University of Utah; Ted McAleer, USTAR; Cameron Martin, Utah’s State Board of Regents; DeLaina Tonks, Open High School of Utah; Christopher Picard, SLCC; Mike Bouwhuis, Davis ATC; Greg Lindley, Holland & Hart; Joe Peterson, USU Eastern; Dave Hardman, Prosperity 2020; Kelle Stephens, Dixie ATC; Suzanne Winters, BioInnovations Gateway; Vicki Varela, Varela Strategic Communications; Deborah Bayle, United Way of Salt Lake; David Tietjen, Argosy University; Darris Howe, University of Phoenix; Collette Mercier, Ogden Weber ATC; Carri Jenkins, BYU; Ann Millner, Weber State University; Larry Shumway, Superintendent State of Utah; Luke Peterson, UVU; Stan Albrecht, USU; Cid Seidelman, Westminster College.

Let’s start out with the state’s goal to have 66 percent of Utahns earn a certificate or degree by the year 2020. How are we doing?
MARTIN: When we started the process of establishing the 66 percent goal, it was just an idea. We are doing very well because the penetration, if you will, into the mind set of legislators, business community members, educational leaders about the goal has had a fairly high saturation. They’re aware of the goal at least.

Now the question that is emerging is how do we fulfill the goal? So we led off with the idea [to educate 66 percent] versus a price tag. Had you led off with a price tag, it would have shut the minds down, particularly of our legislative leaders. So we led off with the need to improve certificate and degree rates.

We launched the program by using a report as a show and tell—a 2010 report that was basically a case statement of the reasons why the idea [increasing certificate and degree rates] was important. We got a commitment from the Utah System of Higher Education to give an annual update of that report. So this last year, we had the 2011 report. In this last report, we were able to come together with UCAT and other organizations to establish what does the goal look like per credential certificate or degree type and category?

This last year we took where we were at in the 2011 report, and we’re at 43 percent [certificate or degree rate]. So we still have a significant gap to go, but it’s not a one dimensional issue from our perspective. You don’t just accomplish this goal by adding more bodies into the pipeline, but that is a key ingredient. We have other populations that tend to self select themselves out. For example, the Hispanic community—we need to better engage them.

Adding students to the pipeline is part of the solution, but for those who are already in the pipeline, we have to do a better job of retaining them and then completing them out with their designed goal of a certificate or a degree and then aligning those with employment opportunities. That’s where we have to have a greater partnership with everybody across the spectrum from public ed and higher ed to the business community so that when we are graduating these students, they have a skill set that meets the needs and grows the opportunities of the state.

For this next report update, we’re actively working to assign and identify initiatives that will help us be at the levels we gauge our progress toward. If we invest in these various initiatives, we’ll be able to advance the state more strategically.

It’s not just about new money, though that is very important. It’s also about reprioritizing or repurposing existing resources. So in this report, we asked our campuses to say what they are doing on the three imperatives that we’ve identified from a higher education standpoint. The first is participation—adding more students, which is all about access and affordability. The second is retention and completion. And the last is economic innovation—are we innovating and creating new jobs through research and companies or through USTAR? Are we in sync with current employment opportunities and needs so that we’re adding to the talent pool that helps sustain and grow existing businesses?

Let’s talk about the 43 percent. Is that everyone who has any kind of a postsecondary certificate or degree from any public or private institution?
MARTIN: As best we know. There is a need to improve the sophistication of data collection and disaggregating the federal data. As an example of what we have to disaggregate, we report “some college” with the same population that has a certificate. So they’re clustered into a group and “some college” could be one semester or it could be six semesters, but you haven’t finished with a certificate or degree. You cluster those all into one category. We need to disaggregate that out to better understand what our population is doing.

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