Push is on to prepare students for college and careers

Published: Monday, Jan. 28 2013 6:40 p.m. MST

At the time the rankings were released, officials with the Utah State Office of Education said that having every student take the ACT would provide better information for tracking college readiness year-to-year, as well as provide a means for comparing the state with the rest of the country.

"We're absolutely supportive of (ACT legislation), and we were a year ago," Park said.

Stephenson said another benefit of the program is that students who otherwise would not have elected to take the ACT are surprised and inspired by the reality of continuing their education.

"Students who never thought they were college material are now becoming the great inventors and scientists of the world because finally they’ve been validated," he said.

Funding the ACT for all high school students is part of a package of legislative requests issued recently by Prosperity 2020, a public/private partnership spearheading a set of goals to improve education performance in Utah.

At the grade school level, Prosperity 2020 has called for $43.6 million in targeted funding for the implementation of computer adaptive testing, the expansion of early intervention and at-risk programs, and an investment into STEM coursework.

"Utah can build the strongest economy in the nation by having the most educated workforce in the nation," Prosperity 2020 Chairman Mark Bouchard said during a recent news conference. "Our greatest natural resource that we have is our youthful population."

Boosting professions

The group has also called for $20 million to go to higher education for STEM and health profession degree development, as well as the expansion of online and concurrent enrollment courses, and $9.75 million to triple the number of adults receiving technical education.

Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem, has sponsored a bill to fund an additional 40 students annually at the University of Utah School of Medicine. Valentine said his bill would call for $10 million in ongoing funding, an increase over the $6.5 million allotment in Gov. Gary Herbert's proposed budget, and would restore some of the cuts made to the medical school during the recession.

That bill cleared the Senate Education Standing Committee on the opening day of the legislative session Monday.

"I sense that we will need additional doctors, especially primary care physicians and especially in rural areas," Valentine said.

The bill also specifies that the added seats be reserved for students with Utah ties, whether that be current residences or students who previously graduated from a Utah high school, college or university.

"I'm looking for people who would have the tendency to stay in Utah to fill these slots," he said.

Last week the Utah State Board of Regents approved university status for Dixie State College. The issue now heads to the Legislature for final approval.

Officials say Dixie State University would function as a counterpart to Utah Valley University and Weber State University in that it would provide an open-enrollment university option for students in the southern portion of the state.

"What we've been able to do in higher education is complete an architecture that is more beneficial for the state," Dixie President Stephen Nadauld said. "Students anywhere in the state, irrespective of their test scores, can find a place to get a university education."

Career preparation

Stephenson is also working on a bill to modify the funding models for career and technical education, often referred to as CTE. The bill is currently in draft form, but he said part of its intent will be to expand technical education at the high school level, rather than expect the state's applied technology schools to "just add water to the soup" and teach more students with the same funding.

"The biggest challenge in CTE education is that we're not providing enough of it," he said. "The market is demanding more than we're providing."

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