Industry Outlook: Higher Education

August 9, 2013

JESSING: That’s what is so amazing with the STEM Action Center and $10 million toward STEM education. That was a call by industry to get the attention of state legislators to say, “Hey, we have to do something all the way down to K through 12.” That, to me, is as big as USTAR. I think we are turning a corner.

WIGHT: The 66 by 2020 goal is something that is reasonably easy to understand and rally around. But the central point of this initiative is to prepare young people in this state to compete globally, not locally. And that’s really why we need 66 percent of the workforce with at least one year of college experience. It’s because we are not just preparing students for the local service economy or local industry. It is really a global scene.

What advice do you have for our public policy makers?

GOETZ: Quite simply, education is workforce development, and it is economic development. You can’t extract any one of those three. They all come at a crossroads. If you don’t have a strong education system, you are going to miss the boat on workforce development. And if there’s no workforce development, companies don’t come to the state and they don’t stay in the state. It’s really a simple equation.

If you want to create jobs and attract high-tech, high-return companies to this state, they are not going to come if they see we are at the bottom of the heap on a national comparison. And that’s not anecdotal. That’s real. Talk to our economic development people and they will tell you we are battling. I had a company that came to support the STEM initiative. Two years ago they didn’t care about it. Now they have an $80 million building they have to put STEM-based talent in, and they assumed they could get it from out of state. It is not coming. And the main reason it’s not coming is the people who they are trying to recruit to the state care about education, and Utah’s education system is not even mid-pack.

JESSING: But is that strictly dollars per student? Why does that one stick out as the biggest one? If we just increase in dollars per student, would that fix it?

GOETZ: That’s a complex question. With our tax base, we will never get to the funding-per-pupil level that many other states do. So I don’t know how you address that issue.

HENRIE: It’s even more fundamental than that. We need to get the legislators on campus, sit in a classroom and see what is happening. Higher ed today is not what it was when they were in the classroom. If they can understand what kind of initiatives, what kind of smart technology we are using in the classroom, even in the humanities programs—it’s not just about a blackboard and chalk any longer. There’s a lot more to it.        

SNYDER: What I would like to say to our legislature is that you cannot take the quality of higher education in the state of Utah for granted, and I think we get taken for granted a great deal. We produce more with less, and we continue to have quality in a wonderful variety of types of institutions that allow access for many different types of students. We are an undervalued proposition in the state of Utah. I’m not from here, and I think we are producing a really, really good product here.

WIGHT: I would add that students are shouldering a much, much larger percentage of the financial load than they used to. That’s a real threat to accessing higher education. It wasn’t that long ago that the state was willing to pay 70 percent of the cost of the Utah resident’s higher education. Now it is barely 50 percent. If we keep going in this direction, we are just going to lock a lot of potential students out of higher education. And the 66 percent goal will mean nothing at that point. The state really has to get behind funding education for the benefit of the students and for the benefit of ourselves.

MADSEN: One of the tricky things when you have legislators come on campus is that you show all the great things that you are doing, which is what you want to do. For instance, I teach business ethics in an MBA class, so I had John Valentine come one evening and he was impressed with the students and that we used our facility on Friday nights, and so that’s great. But then they get the impression it’s going fine. Isn’t that a tricky problem?    

BAYLE: They often don’t want to hear what’s not going well. That’s really our role at the legislature—to talk to them about the things that are not going well for so many of the kids in our state and our community. And they don’t want to hear it. They don’t want to hear the fact that there are so many kids that are starting kindergarten two years behind their peers. It’s really difficult to get them to change their perspectives or look beyond their own personal experiences.

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