July 1, 2011

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Higher Education

Utah Business Staff

July 1, 2011

PERSHING: The state has to recognize that the public higher education system is an investment, not an expense. Not only are we the youngest state, we’re the state that has the potential to really grow. Many of my friends in the Midwest are worried about just the opposite of what we’re worried about—they’re actually facing a declining higher education age population. We are going to have to provide a high-quality education for less resources per student or it’s not going to work in Utah, because we cannot increase the price enough to make up for legislative shortfalls without breaking the students. That isn’t going to change in Utah. So we’ve got to do it effectively.

MILLNER: We have 140,000 new students that we expect to come into our system over the next decade; it’s a significant challenge facing us. If we create a state where we’ve got that talented, young workforce, that’s going to set us apart in terms of being able to grow the economy here and build the thriving community that we all want. We do have to make some investment, and we do have to see higher education as a public good. Shifting the cost to our students when we know that they already struggle won’t work. We really do need to make a state investment in those students.

Traditionally, we’ve been a low-tuition, low financial-aid state. And we have become a higher-tuition state, but we haven’t become a higher financial-aid state to help compensate for that. So those students who really do need help, who really are from the have-nots, who really can’t do this without support—we need to make sure that we are really providing financial aid that will make a difference.

WINTERS: We’re talking about delivering on education for less cost, but look at the models of the kids and how they learn today. It’s not with a professor in his research lab and his non-English-speaking TA teaching a class in front of 400 students. Kids learn today on social media, they learn on a 33-minute video, they learn in all these other innovative ways where we can deliver very solid and relevant content. Because what do we teach our kids right now? We’re teaching our kids great engineering equations. But do they know how to apply those? No, because they’ve been sitting in a classroom not applying them. They’ve been sitting in a classroom memorizing how to do a problem on paper. We’ve got to completely change the way we teach in our institutions.

HOWE: We’ve mentioned Thomas Friedman and his belief that we need to be innovative to solve our energy problems. Well, we have to do the same thing with education. My institution has gone through some very painful changes because we have to continually change the way we do things. I have faculty members who are always saying, “Can’t we do it the way it used to be?” But we can’t teach the same way we used to.

I had one student that went through the business simulation. And he said, “I bankrupted my company three times in the simulation until I was able to make the right decision.” These new techniques, these new innovations we have in delivering, are very exciting; and individuals can get energized with that.

We have to continue to make these painful changes. We have to do more with less. There are ways to do it, but we can’t stand on the old paradigm. And all of us are in the same boat on that—it’s exciting to be able come up with innovations, knowing they’re worth doing.

SEDERBURG: You’re not going to get any argument around the table on the fundamental academic argument that we all buy into and I think every politician in the state buys into—that the future of Utah depends upon a strong higher education system with all sorts of options. The road to individual success is through the doors of the college campuses or the other campuses in education. Everybody buys into that. Everybody buys into the fact that our population is growing. We have a responsibility to meet the needs of an increasing population. We buy into the fact that we need to be innovative and change our delivery systems, and there’s a lot of innovation going on internally in our campuses as well, a lot of innovation with new competition coming in from the private sector. We are an innovative sector.

I think people buy into the academic argument, but the problem is, how do we translate that into an agenda for the state of Utah? There’s a fundamental disconnect in Utah between what people will articulate and what they’ll do. What I really want to throw out is a challenge for the Utah business community to have some serious conversation about if we really believe in the future, then how do we make that happen?

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