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A group of top education industry leaders joined together Tuesday during Utah Business magazine’s annual Education Roundtable to discuss issues, trends and challenges the state’s education industry is facing.
Educators discussed everything from the role higher education should play to the importance of science, technology, education and math (STEM). The group also discussed the state’s initiative to have 66 percent of Utahns with postsecondary certificates or degrees by the year 2020, an initiative known as Prosperity 2020, and what that means for educational institutions across the state.
Rob Brems, president of the Utah College of Applied Technology, said in his 36 years in education, the Prosperity 2020 goal is the most significant goal he’s seen, because it charges all of Utah’s educational institutions with a major responsibility.
“I think it’s important to recognize Utah has that goal and because of it we will see a better workforce and economy,” Brems said.
Jana Scott, Prosperity 2020 coordinator and member, said one remarkable thing about the goal is that it’s a shared goal among groups like the Board of Regents and the State Board of Education.
“There’s a remarkable power in a shared vision,” she said. “Education is at the heart of economic development. A company can be more innovative, more productive and more successful because of an educated workforce. There are all kinds of impact on the economy that can come from education.”
Although the state’s educational institutions are working toward the Prosperity 2020 initiative, the likelihood of reaching that goal is a stretch, according to many attendees.
Sally Johnstone, vice president for academic advancement at Western Governors University, said Utah isn’t alone in its desire to increase the number of people with degrees and certificates—governors in a number of states around the country have set similar goals.
“What’s so interesting is there’s been a realization that [each state] can’t do business as usual,” Johnstone said. “The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has mapped out what’s required to meet the goals state-by-state, and frankly it’s stunning when you look at it. I’ve looked at Utah’s, and if every institution in the state worked at maximum capacity, meaning every student who came in graduated, [we still wouldn’t reach the goal]. The institutions, as great as they are, [don’t have] a prayer.”
Deneece Huftalin, interim president at Salt Lake Community College, said one solution is to find people who have never planned on attending college—those who feel they can’t afford it or whose parents never went to college—and get them to go.
“Those alternative paths have to be made available,” she said. “Unless we partner and work collectively, we’ll never meet that goal.”
Bill Crim, senior vice president of collective impact for United Way of Salt Lake, said it’s also important for higher education leaders to be partnering early on with K-12 schools as well as finding ways to engage parents and preschool-age children.
Ruth Watkins, senior vice president of academic affairs at the University of Utah, said it’s also imperative to remember students who are currently attending college.
“We can’t turn away from the fact that we’re not achieving [degree or certificate] completion at the level we need to,” she said, adding that it’s necessary to face the fact that access is important, but so are the students who are currently in the education pipeline.
Larry Smith, executive senior vice provost at Utah State University, said ultimately, whether the state achieves its Prosperity 2020 goal or not, it’s important to remember what the goal means for the state.
“It’s forced a strong focus on higher education and the things we have to do in order to have success in completion and a stronger workforce,” he said. “We’ve had success on the path to the 66 percent. We shouldn’t just focus on whether we fail or succeed.”
Mary Ann Holladay, former director of the Women and Education Initiative, moderated the discussion. The Education Roundtable will appear in the September issue of Utah Business.
Prosperity 2020 is the largest business-led effort to improve education outcomes in the state’s history. For more information on this initiative, visit www.prosperity2020.com.