Are Utah's colleges and universities fulfilling their mission?

Published: Sunday, Aug. 18 2013 10:15 a.m. MDT

"We feel that, for a lot of students, this is a really good transition from high school to college," said Brandon Wright, Snow's director of admissions. "Some of them might not be ready for the university, and that is our goal to help them be prepared and ready to transfer to the university and finish that degree."

Diversity and access

Utah's education, political and business communities are currently working in collaboration toward a goal to have two-thirds of the state's adults educated beyond high school by 2020. The goal, commonly referred to as "66 by 2020" is designed to align the state's educational outputs with the workforce demands of Utah's growing economy.

But 66 by 2020 includes more than just bachelor's, master's and doctorate degrees. Projections from the governor's office call for large gains in the number of postsecondary certificates and associate degrees awarded, which traditionally fall in the sphere of technical and two-year schools.

Marty Carpenter, executive vice president of communications for the Salt Lake Chamber, said that as Utah's economy grows, so does the need for a diverse workforce. He said the general consensus of the business community is that both employers and employees are served by an individual receiving advanced training in their chosen field, whether that means a technical certificate, an associate degree or a doctorate.

"We’re going to need a lot of different kinds of workers," Carpenter said. "We want everyone, wherever they happen to fit into our workforce, to perform at their highest level possible. We want you to be the very best that you can be."

Nic Dunn, spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, said there is a demand for workers with certificates and associate degrees and that demand is projected to increase as Utah's economy grows.

"We need those jobs now. We’ll still need them in 2020," Dunn said.

The Utah College of Applied Technology, focused on certificate programs, received an additional $5 million from the Legislature this year, which is being applied toward expanding capacity at UCAT's eight campuses.

The technology college has been working toward its goal to triple the number of certificates it awards each year — from 5,000 in 2012 to 15,000 in 2020 — which provides students with another option to Utah's community colleges and regional universities.

"The two-year schools and technical schools remain a critical component in the overall education environment if we are to reach our goals for the year 2020," said Ally Isom, spokeswoman for Gov. Gary Herbert. "We know there’s a good demand there, and we have every intention of maintaining these programs."

At the University of Utah, Utah Valley University and Salt Lake Community College — the state's three largest schools — the amount of state tax funds appropriated for academic programs during the 2011-12 school year was $229 million for the U., $58.7 million for UVU and $62 million for SLCC, according to data from the Utah System of Higher Education.

Since 2002, Utah Valley University has seen the highest jump in funding with a 47 percent increase in state tax dollars, including a gain of nearly $13 million between the 2006-07 and 2007-08 school years, which coincided with the school receiving university status in July 2008.

In comparison, funding at Salt Lake Community College has increased 16 percent since 2002, a greater percentage increase than the University of Utah's 12.2 percent bump over the past 10 years.

Snow College, Utah's smallest and lowest-funded school, has seen its state funding increase by 14 percent since 2002 and received $18.8 million for the 2011-12 school year.

Those figures represent current dollars in the year in which they were received. When adjusted for inflation, state funding for public colleges and universities is down 5.5 percent since 2002, according to the Utah System of Higher Education. Also when adjusted for inflation, only Dixie State University and Utah Valley University are operating with greater state funding for academic programs than they were in 2002.


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