High Marks

Utah’s Education Prepares the Workforce of Tomorrow

Candace M. Little

March 1, 2011

The University of Utah has one of the largest entrepreneurial centers in the country, the Pierre Lassonde Entrepreneur Center. Since January 2000, this center has been providing real-world business experience to help young entrepreneurs understand and assume the risks of business ownership and management. Another example is the BioInnovate program, which partners student business and engineering teams with health care clinicians to develop new biomedical products. Since 2007, the program has spurred 38 disclosures (a precursor to a patent), launched three new companies and trained 160 students.

Centers and programs like this, along with USTAR initiatives, spur business growth and research development. The National Association of University Technology Mangers recently ranked the University of Utah No. 1 in the nation for spinning off research-based companies—surpassing M.I.T. for the first time in 2009.

Utah State University also contributes to Utah’s economy and the world with important inventions and research. USTAR has funded a $60 million life sciences building on USU’s Logan campus that will be finished in 2011. Energy research is particularly strong at USU with the Energy Dynamics Lab (EDL) and USU Biofuels Center, which focus on finding new alternative renewable energy sources. EDL’s Logan Lagoon Project is turning pond water algae into reusable energy while improving the environment. In all, the state’s investment in EDL via the USTAR program has been leveraged 250 percent with federal and private funding.

A Strong Start

But before parents send their kids off to college, proper preparation must occur. Utah has more than 1,000 schools in school districts, 72 charter schools and about 175 private schools. Utah’s public school system enrolls more than 570,000 students.

However, the State’s public schools offer much more than bare minimum curriculum. Eight elementary schools offer a Chinese immersion program, 85 secondary schools offer Chinese language classes, in addition to some schools offering Arabic and most schools offering Spanish, French or German.

High schools offer programs to prepare students for training in technical areas for direct entry into the workforce. Workforce statistics report more than 60 percent of jobs in the future will require less than a bachelor’s degree, but more than a high school diploma, and Utah is working hard to ensure that young people are not only prepared to continue in traditional education, but prepared to enter the workforce with vocational skills training.   

Private schools, like Meridian School in Orem, Utah are also having a lasting impression on Utah’s education. Established more than 20 years ago, Meridian is a private college preparatory academy for students pre-K through high school. Most Meridian students are scoring two grades above average, according to IOWA standardized testing scores, and some eighth graders are scoring at a first-year college level.

From optional extended-day Kindergarten programs to college preparatory courses to innovative private-public partnerships in the local universities, Utah is helping students achieve their best and prepare for lifelong success in a 21st Century workforce.

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