July 10, 2015

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Education Experts Weigh in on Higher Education, Student Readiness

by Adva Biton

July 10, 2015

More than 20 education professionals met Thursday morning to discuss challenges and growth areas in their industry at the annual Utah Business education roundtable. This year, topics were narrowed to focus on higher education, with issues like access to education, focus on outreach to minorities and underserved youth, financial funding, graduation rates and the effectiveness of legislature all on the table.

Particularly troubling to many roundtable attendees was the readiness of high school graduates for college and the limitations funding places on student enrollment at colleges and universities.

“We see a lot of incoming students who are graduating high school who do not have the skills needed to succeed at a higher education level,” said Del Beatty, dean of students at Dixie State University. “And now, with limited financial aid resources in our country, they only get 12 semesters of financial aid in their lifetime. If they’re wasting two or three semesters of financial aid trying to get up to a college level… they’re wasting their opportunity for higher education. They run out of financial aid before they can get their degree.”

“We cannot offer enough lower-division math courses for the students coming in,” added Mikki O’Conner, assistant dean at Utah Valley University. “[Incoming students] are two or three semesters behind.”

According to Chris English, assistant head of school for teaching and learning at Wasatch Academy, the problem with preparing students for higher education is the need to “re-conceptualize” what high schools, colleges and universities need from students. Balancing the desires to teach real-world job skills along with the standards of traditional colleges has proven difficult, he said.

“There is a contrast or juxtaposition of skills we need in the workforce today and the expectations of a more traditional college environment,” summed up Mary Ann Holladay, president of Holladay and Associates and former director of the Utah Women and Education Initiative, who moderated the discussion.

Part of the issue, according to Pat Partridge, chief marketing officer for Western Governors University, is the consideration of whether Utah has a “culture of education”—whether education is valued for its own sake or as a tool for creating a more skilled workforce. “How do we establish an increasing culture of education—and particularly higher education—that fits in with where the careers and jobs are?” he asked.

The legislature’s effectiveness in enforcing higher standards for Utah’s education was also brought up.

“I think [the legislature does] want to create a culture of education,” said Tim Sheehan, vice president for government and community relations at Salt Lake Community College. “I’m very encouraged and very positive. They’re listening to us—and that may be the most encouraging part of all.”

Others were less bullish about the legislature’s approach to solving the educational standards needs of the state.

“We need to develop a goal,” said Scott McLeod, senior director of network partnerships at United Way Salt Lake. “I think most of us have heard the expression ‘you can’t fatten a cow by weighing it.’ Currently, we’re seeing inadequate education results, and the solution coming from the legislature has been to put scales everywhere. ‘Let’s make it all accountable and just weigh a lot.’ That’s not investing in the feed, the grain—what’s going to the improve this.”

The importance of doing so was underscored by Patti Monsoor, PR and marketing director at Utah Valley University. “While I appreciate someone saying there’s other needs outside of education—how can we look at anything else without an educated state? Education isn’t a topic; it’s a foundation for Utah.”

Holladay moderated the discussion. Read more about Education Roundtable in the September issue of Utah Business.

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