Utah Business Staff

August 1, 2012

So let’s not get caught up in the exuberance of “let’s count it this way or this way or this way and we meet our 66 percent goal.” Let’s talk about how we get there and that includes the cost element.
MILLNER: I really want to talk about this from two perspectives, and part of it relates to what President Albrecht said. I look at this “some college, no degree,” and people say, with counseling, we just know we could get there. Well, the reality is that for lots of our students, there are two sets of decisions they make that cause them to move. One is aid. It’s the ability to pay and the ability to go to school. I would suggest that many institutions this summer saw some impact when the federal government discontinued the summer Pell program, which meant we had fewer students who were continuing their education during the summer on our campuses. The reality is that we know when they drop out that the likelihood of them continuing on is much more difficult.

If a summer Pell program would allow us to keep students moving 12 months, it’s a great use of our facilities and it would increase retention. But that means we’ve got to invest on the student side of this and on student financial aid programs that will help our students, those particularly who are low income, first generation students who have challenges. We need to think about a significant investment there, and that’s not only an investment on the access side, it’s an investment on the retention side.

Thinking about this 66 percent goal—it’s a big goal, but all things are not equal. We need to focus on high wage, high demand jobs in our state and think about what we need to do to meet those needs.

We’ve done a great job with the USTAR program in terms of working with the research universities and saying, “How are we going to help build this economic engine through taking technology and commercializing it and allowing us to grow the state?”

The folks in economic development have done a really nice job in recruiting technology companies in, but we’re starting to hear their needs and demands in terms of their workforce, both in engineers and in certain areas of computer science and the business executive level roles, et cetera, that we need to fill to help those companies grow.

On the other side, I know that we could have a lot more students in our health professions programs, but those are the programs that take a significant investment in order to be able to expand them. So I’m talking about a range of programs from the biomedical side, the health professions side, the healthcare side to the technology and engineering and business side—those are our highest-cost programs.

We have gone through significant cutbacks in the state. We need to rethink what we want to do and to build a focused strategy here that would allow us then to drive the economy that then drives the funding that allows us to support all of our institutions and all of our students.

Where should the leadership come from to make that happen?
MILLNER: It has to come from higher education working with the business community to identify the areas in terms of economic growth and development. There are these meaningful relationships going on between USTAR and the economic development people and the chamber groups. It shouldn’t be that difficult to really try to identify these kinds of high-wage, high-growth, high-demand jobs that will make a difference for Utah and make us first in the nation. What we have to be is first in the world and we are not.

BOUWHUIS: I want to respond to the certificate arena in which applied technology colleges across the state play.  We don’t have degrees—we provide certificates. In our institution, we have 37 programs that provide certificates. They range anywhere from 150 hours up to 1,500 hours.

In the process of developing our certificates, our goal is to stabilize our data, make sure that we have the same data definitions that we’re using. We find that many employers are really requiring certificates of completion for the entry-level workforce. They no longer want someone that has some technical training. They want people that are highly skilled, because the old machine shop of the 1940s versus the machine shop in this century is totally different. It’s totally automated. It’s totally computerized. So our certificates are very technical today, and technical certificates are basically the credential that these employers want to see.

M. HARDMAN: One of the things that concerns me about 66 percent as a benchmark is that’s our focus, not the focus on what it actually means. In other words, getting underneath that data and truly understanding what we really want, which is actually the definition of success. Are we successful if we hit that 66 percent level? Or are we successful when we take a look at the premise for the 66 percent, which is we simply cannot in this country any longer afford to have only the elite educated in higher education as we did in the past.

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