July 1, 2011

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Higher Education

Utah Business Staff

July 1, 2011

Prosperity 2020 is going to be a huge advocate of very early intervention in math and science, of changing the dynamic in which we cultivate these young students so by the time they come to your institutions, we’re not spending millions and millions of dollars remediating students in our core language, English, and doing basic math.

What are the greatest challenges in higher education?
NADAULD: One of our challenges, which is maybe not unique to the state of Utah, is that if we’re not careful, we’ll develop a “have” and “have not” society in our state because we aren’t effective enough at reaching out to the under-motivated and minority students. As our demographics change, we really risk this have/have not society if we’re not able to bring all of the young people into the higher education system.

There’s so many students who are under motivated. Somehow we need to get people to speak with one voice about the importance of an education, whether it’s a technical education, a higher education or a graduate education. We’ve lost our way in the state a little bit relative to the importance of education in general. We under-serve not only minorities, but also women. If we could develop a message that had two or three points that every one of us made at every public appearance, maybe in five years we could turn around this notion about how important is it that you get some kind of post-secondary education and how important it is that you’re prepared.

TIETJEN: The keyword that comes to my mind is relevance. I’m looking at our institution—we’re a private, for-profit. We have to be innovative, so I’m constantly looking at our customers, our students, and saying, “Are we delivering on all fronts? Are we segmenting the marketplace? Are we addressing minorities? Are we addressing women who are lacking degrees?”            

The internet has changed everything, from a technology perspective and from a power perspective. I used to work for Ford Motor Company, and the common saying was, “You could have any Model-T you want as long as it’s black.” That doesn’t float anymore. In terms of what we’re delivering—maybe it’s not a degree. Maybe it’s a certification. Maybe it’s a workshop or some sort of training that they’re actually needing to fill that gap in the marketplace. Are we providing content the way they want it? Is it on demand? Is it blended? I think these are the questions we need to grapple with to make sure that we are providing the products and services needed so we don’t become a “have/have not” society.

BREMS: The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that between 70 and 80 percent of the jobs in our country don’t really require a four-year degree, but they require something. I appreciate what’s been said about certificates, which is our niche within the Utah College of Applied Technology. Another important aspect is the interchangeability and the connection between things like short-term training, certificates, associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees and graduate-level education.

I have a weekend laboratory where I get to work with young people. As I look at the things that they are trying to achieve, oftentimes I think, “Do you really know where you’re heading? Do you know what the jobs are out there?” Sadly, that’s a big problem. We’ve got to figure out how to connect our students with what the employers need, which, of course, is the mission of our college, to meet the needs of employers.

I’m pleased to say that in Utah we’ve made some really important strides in terms of linking public education with what we do in higher education. At UCAT, we serve about 10,000 high school students a year who have solid career goals. They come to us looking for an opportunity to earn a certificate, which probably will take them less than a year. The certificate gives them a solid basis on whether to work or to go on to additional education.

BASSIS: I don’t disagree with any of the perspectives that have been expressed. They’re right on target. But I’ve conceptualized our greatest challenge a slightly different way. We’ve been using a model that doesn’t serve us very well anymore. It’s a model that links cost with quality: the only way to improve the quality of an educational experience is to increase the cost, and anything that’s done to withdraw funds from an institution is seen as a threat to quality. We’ve gotten to point where the expectation that we’re going to be funded at higher and higher levels is an unrealistic one. I just don’t think it’s going to happen. So we’ve got to find ways, creative ways, and break that link between cost and quality in terms of our delivery system. We’re at a very exciting transformational time in higher education with respect to just that issue, because technology is changing the game in such dramatic ways.

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