July 1, 2011

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Higher Education

Utah Business Staff

July 1, 2011

I just see this blank look on people’s faces when you talk to legislators and people out in the political system, and they’ll immediately say, “Well, you’ve got to learn to do more with less.” And that is true, but if your population is doubling in size, you’re not going to double and increase efficiency by 50 percent, even at the University of Phoenix or anywhere else. The fundamental educational challenge in Utah, if we’re going to shape a future, is translating what we all generally believe into making something happen. When I pose this to legislators, the response that I get is that, “I’m all on board, but my constituents won’t let me. The caucus system won’t let me get out of the caucus without that position.”

So it really gets back into selling the public on the value of education. In spite of all our weaknesses and all the inefficiencies and all the goofiness of our system, there is no other plan. If you were to say, “What’s the alternative?” Well, let’s abolish higher education; let’s ask Dave Pershing and his researchers to leave; let’s be proud of a third-world country mentality.

BOUCHARD: First, I would counsel all of you that if you believe that acquiescing that you have to do more with less is your future, then you will fail. You simply will not be successful if you adopt that strategy. Education, not unlike any other environment in this country, including the private sector, requires strategic investment because that’s exactly what it is. It’s a strategic investment for the future for the stability of an economy.

Number two, we must do a better job at identifying with the students what their passion is, and we can’t do that effectively without counseling them. I’m not talking about the folks in this room as much as your colleagues in K-12. We must know by the time these kids are in high school where their passions are, and then we have a responsibility as educators to counsel them about their opportunities and how it impacts their future.

The student, when they leave your universities and come to work for me, their education does not end. We’re identifying students who bring to us a passion for something that we have a need in as an expertise. But their education continues to evolve, and we have to continue to challenge and train them and prepare them for future responsibilities, as much as you do in the university level; but if we don’t do that by effectively talking to them, counseling them and understanding where their needs are, we will lose that person, as you lose people out of the higher education system, and as we lose people out of the public education system.

The model that we’re operating is a model that’s failing. It’s failing us in Utah, where we have probably the greatest natural resource pool in the country. It will have a negative impact on this state—it will create slums, it will create the haves and the have-nots. It will turn Salt Lake City into Milwaukee, Detroit or Cleveland if we continue to accept the idea that we have to do more with less. We have to invest in these kids; they’re our future. We have to talk to them on a more consistent basis and draw out of them their passions. We have to use every tool available to us at the K-12 level to make sure that when they come to your universities and colleges, they are prepared and have an idea of what it is they want to do. But I would say, again, it’s a danger for any of you to think doing more with less is the way of the future in Utah. We are going to have to figure out a better solution than that or we will fail.

How would you invest $1 million in education?
WINTERS: First of all, $1 million isn’t very much. But with $1 million, you can make an impact. We all like to complain about public ed, but who is training our teachers? Put a million dollars into our science education, teaching teachers how to teach.  

Last year, the state of Utah graduated 380 home ec teachers. We graduated one physics teacher. Why are we doing this? Not only that, but we’re teaching science teachers who are science phobic. They get into the elementary schools, where many of the passions are developed, and we turn them off because the teacher’s science phobic, the curriculum is science phobic. Where do they go from there? They learn to hate science. We have to change the way we’re training our science teachers, our math teachers, and then we can change the impact it’s having on kids in K-12 education and how many of those kids are coming in. I think we can do a little bit of that for a million bucks.

JENKINS: One million dollars today can have a huge impact—add mentor research opportunities, where undergraduate students apply for grants and work one-on-one with investors with research that has been published as an undergraduate. This gives them someone they can look to as a reference. We were finding years ago that some of our students worked at custodial jobs, meaning they used their supervisor as a reference. We wanted them to go out with a reference; we wanted them to go out and be able to show a portfolio already.

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