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Higher education action includes money for tech college

Published: Saturday, March 16 2013 2:05 p.m. MDT

For months, Gov. Gary Herbert has been advocating for a statewide goal to have two-thirds of Utah's adults holding a postsecondary degree or certification by the year 2020.

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At the beginning of the Utah Legislature 2013 session, The Deseret News pledged to focus its legislative coverage on five key issues that matter to Utah families: early childhood education, college and career readiness, economic development, health care and well-being, and intergenerational poverty. See what transpired in each of those areas during this year's legislative session.

SALT LAKE CITY — For months, Gov. Gary Herbert has been advocating for a statewide goal to have two-thirds of Utah's adults holding a postsecondary degree or certification by the year 2020.

The education goal, commonly referred to as "66 by 2020," has been embraced by the business community through the Prosperity 2020 initiative, Governor's Education Excellence Commission, public and higher education officials and now by members of the Utah Legislature.

Lawmakers approved a resolution supporting the merits of the goal, which included a provision to have 90 percent proficiency in reading at the third-grade level, recognized as crucial to student success.

But no targeted money to reach the goal was designated during the legislative session.

Herbert described the resolution as his No. 1 issue for the Legislature, as lawmakers' support unites the various parties of public and higher education in a common goal.

"That says a lot. It says that we, over the next eight years, are going to work together to raise the bar and achieve education excellence in the state," the governor said. "Forcing us to work together is a good thing for the state of Utah, for education and for our economy."

Utah's colleges and universities received $18 million in mission-based funding, an increase from the amount requested by the Board of Regents, said Dave Buhler, commissioner of higher education.

The funding will help with the state's efforts to increase degree attainment, Buhler said, as each institution has developed initiatives to increase participation, completion and retention.

"We can definitely put it to good use," he said. "Mission-based funding will help with 66 by 2020, there's no doubt about it."

University status was approved for Dixie State College of Utah, now Dixie State University, which is expected to increase the opportunity for four-year degrees and academic research in the southern portion of the state.

An expansion of $10 million was approved for the University of Utah Medical School, which allows for an additional 40 students to be accepted each year. Lawmakers also approved a bill that would grant college credit to veterans based on their military training.

Roughly $5 million was given to expand capacity at the campuses of the Utah Applied Technology College, which Herbert said plays a crucial role in achieving the state's goals.

"They're going to have a more robust role in this goal of 66 by 2020," he said. "We don't all have to have degrees from universities to be successful in the marketplace."

Rob Brems, UCAT president, said he was pleased with the funding from the Legislature, though it fell short of the $9.75 million requested by UCAT officials.

Brems said each of the college's eight campuses have worked with advisory committees to determine what programs need to be added or expanded to maximize the demands of the workforce marketplace.

"We'll use the $5 million that we got to start working down that list, and we'll do our best to contribute to the governor's goal," he said.

Brems also said UCAT is making progress on its goal to triple the amount of certificates awarded each year. The current rate is 6,000 certificates, up from 5,000 last year, he said, and officials are working to raise that number to 15,000 by 2020.

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