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So how can businesses get more involved in higher education?
BAYLE: Prosperity 2020 is a business-led coalition. Education First is business led. Our board is almost exclusively made up of business leaders who go up and talk to the legislators. It’s different when it’s coming from a business person about a social issue or about an education issue than it is if it is coming from a “do-gooder,” as they see us. So it’s imperative that the business community talks to our legislature.
GOETZ: K through 12 education often gets left out of these conversations. Businesses have partnerships with higher ed because it’s a little more intuitive with how they connect and interact with higher ed. But if we are talking about education, we are talking about the whole package, and industry needs to know how to get involved with K-12 education. Because that is where it starts.
BAYLE: If they don’t make it through high school, they won’t get to higher ed programs.
KEY: With the economic downturn, we have seen companies reduce or cut their reimbursement programs. And that says to the employee, “Does my company support me getting more education?” And when there’s no support and they see it getting cut, it’s a very clear message, “no.”
SCHARMAN: It’s been said here that when we can give our students a practical experience actually working with the businesses, both sides benefit. It’s oftentimes much less expensive for the businesses, but also gives them a chance to see what is out there and what they can do to help advise people getting in their industry. It could be an extended job interview. But our students need practical experience as well as the experience in the schools.
GEORGE: It boils down to internships, scholarship, mentorship, input on continuing education changes and career change education requirements. That’s really what has to happen.
If you were to make a personal investment in education, where would you put your money to achieve the biggest result?
TAGGART: The biggest investment is whatever is going to help students complete, whether it’s a one-year certificate, associate degree or bachelor’s degree. That’s really what Prosperity 2020 and the governor’s goal is about—completion. There is value in attending higher education and having that interaction and that experience. But the real benefit comes from completing.
JESSING: With respect to certificates and stackable credentials that we talk about all the time, with these smaller steps, completion takes not two years or four years but could take six months or one year. So I would invest in a stackable-credential model where there are tiny little bits that tend to keep people involved if they can succeed in a shorter period of time.
SNYDER: Our board of trustees this past year created a special scholarship program called the U Futures Scholarship, designed for students within two semesters of completing who were not exceptional students, had no other financial aid, and backed up in terms of the amount of aid they could receive. We gave them small scholarships. We asked them to commit to finish in two semesters. Small scholarships between $1,000 and $3,000 each. We had a 100 percent completion rate of students in that program. All they needed was a little push. One woman said, “No one has ever shown me, in my life, that they believed in me. This is the first time.”
So we are expanding that program exponentially this coming year—with the support of businesses, hopefully. Some students just need that little push to get to the next level.
WIGHT: Completion is really important, but my answer to the question has more to do with access to education. What we are finding is that lots of schools have new scholarship programs to really change the conversation about access.
At Weber we call it the Dream Weber Scholarship, but there are similar programs at other universities where we can package a combination of federal, state and private money into scholarships that help students get into school and stay in school.
GOETZ: I would make my investment in secondary advising and counseling. If we can make our advising and counseling infrastructure in secondary more robust, more effective and more intentional, then you are going to see more girls go into some of the STEM-based areas in secondary and see students articulating into programs in higher ed with more knowledge, more understanding, more preparation for what they are facing.
SNYDER: We need to focus on helping students understand at the beginning of high school or even junior high that if you meet these metrics and you do the work, we will be here for you—so that they see higher education as a possibility early on.