July 1, 2011

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Higher Education

Utah Business Staff

July 1, 2011

SEDERBURG: Regarding math and science, there’s a sense of frustration in higher education that we’re not getting the math and science students out of the K-12 system that we ought to be getting. There’s also a little bit of frustration in the sense that we need a thousand-plus engineers in the state to drive the economy. We’re not able to entice enough students into those engineering programs in spite of the capacity being there.

MILLNER: The math preparation is extremely important to all of our institutions; it’s just so fundamental. If we had students coming in really ready to do college level math, we would be able to significantly expand the pipelines in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

WYATT: I just picked up a student at the airport last night who’s coming to Snow College from Asia, and I asked him why he was coming to Snow College. He said, “There’s only opportunities for 5 percent of the students who graduate from high school in my country to go to college or university.”

When we compare data as to how successful one student is to another, we need to remember that the opportunities in our country are open for everyone and the opportunities in many countries are open only for the very few elite.

So the comparisons are troublesome. We have an extraordinary program that has provided opportunities for the broadest range of people the world has ever seen, and not everyone will succeed. And we continually reinvent ourselves and become better in delivering education to those who need the help.

What’s the biggest challenge to post-secondary education?
NELSON: We have 600,000 students in our public K-12 system. We are unbelievably under-serving those 600,000 kids. It’s obviously causing a great deal of difficulty for you. They’re not prepared to move on, whether it’s to the great ATCs or the colleges and universities.

And once kids are in post-secondary education, the career centers aren’t helping those kids connect their education to what can be meaningful employment. There is a major disconnect. We need to be more relevant in what you’re delivering. Many of you are doing a superb job, but there are some serious gaps.

Discuss Prosperity 2020’s aspirations for the state.

BOUCHARD: Part of the solution doesn’t reside within this room. You have a partner in K-12, and you will only be as good and as effective as your partners in K-12 allow you to be, because they are creating the farm team, if you will, of the students that are ultimately going to populate your colleges, universities and technical schools.

That K-16 alliance is moving in the direction of fostering greater collaboration and communication; but as a business executive, if I was just to look at the business of education and where Prosperity 2020 is, in order for us to be a global competitor in Utah—and that’s the stage we compete on today.

We are competing globally for every major assignment in economic development that this country has to offer. We have to be more effective at demonstrating stronger communication and collaboration in our education system as a whole and, most importantly, taking better advantage of technology, looking at our greatest areas of influence.

For example, we have a dynamic tech sector. But by comparison to San Jose, California, where they do $600 billion in revenue in their tech sector alone, we are nowhere near that evolution of thinking, of production. And it all comes back to a simple component: the quality of your workforce and the manner in which you dedicate yourself to educating that workforce.

We have great educators in the state, and we have great institutions in the state. Where we have started to slip from a Prosperity 2020 perspective is that we haven’t continued to foster the necessary dialogue with our partners across the board in building a better system, not only of communication but of impact to the students themselves.

Second, we need to understand that the only thing that’s going to sustain us as a global competitor going forward is our ability to educate our kids. They are our greatest natural resource. They are a resource that no other state has. We’re the youngest state in the country, we have the largest youth population in the country.                      

Right now we’re just not producing that ultimate workforce that’s required as a result. It’s not a slight to the institutions or the leaders at this table as much as it is that we haven’t fostered a greater process of communication with education as a whole. And it starts very early.

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