June 14, 2012

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Is Utah’s Ambitious Education Goal Attainable?

Di Lewis

June 14, 2012

A statewide goal of having two-thirds of Utahns complete post-secondary training is noble, but faces significant obstacles, according to a group of experts at Utah Business magazine’s education roundtable Wednesday morning.

The idea that two out of every three Utahns older than 20 should have a skilled trade certificate or post-secondary degree by 2020 is becoming more and more well known, said Cameron Martin, associate commissioner at the Utah System of Higher Education. He said the legislature and other lawmakers were approached with the idea, rather than a price tag, so they would be more receptive.

Unfortunately the price tag is important, said Stan Albrecht, Utah State University president. For example, labs and other facilities are running at capacity. So to serve more students, more facilities are needed. “To talk about the 66 percent as a meaningful goal is going to require substantially more of an investment in education in our state, and I’m concerned about our willingness to do that,” Albrecht said.

Currently, only 43 percent of Utah’s population meets the goal, Martin said, so there is still a significant gap between the current number and the goal.

Many people have some education but no certificate or degree, said Larry Shumway, state superintendent. That shows how attainable a two-thirds goal is, he said, because they are so close to reaching a degree.

“I find these numbers on one hand giving me great reason for optimism,” Shumway said. “On the other hand making me have some real thoughts about how we change our transition from public education to higher education and how we help people think about higher education and their purposes there.”

Weber State University President Ann Milner said part of the goal must be a focus on high-wage, high-demand jobs.

All of those achievements have to be looked at holistically, said Kelle Stephens, president of Dixie Applied Technology College. A mother working at a fast-food restaurant who makes a move to become a CNA is not moving into a high-wage position, but she is significantly increasing her income and education, while setting a good example of improvement for her children, she said.

“I think that we need to realize that sometimes we’re talking about improvements over generations,” Stephens said.

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