Nobody else's education problems ever seem as bad as ours.
College professors are leaving Utah in increasing numbers for greener financial pastures out of state. Students are pounding on the admissions door as the wave of students who were crowded into public education classrooms enter higher education.And nobody has as much heart as we do. We care about education. It's a cherished value.
Sometimes it takes a journey outside Utah's borders to find out just how ordinary our extraordinary problems really are.
Last month, during a family vacation to visit relatives in America's heartland, we traveled through Kansas on both legs of our journey.
It was just days before the Kansas primary in which Republican Gov. Mike Hayden staved off several challengers. (He won the chance to face Democratic state Treasurer Joan Finney in November.) The airwaves and newspaper columns were filled with political news.
And a big chunk of the Kansas political news focused on education.
Politicians weren't attacking education, condemning educator salaries or faculty teaching loads. The candidates criticized Hayden for what they perceived as a failure to deliver on all of his promises to boost the quality of Kansas education.
In soliciting the vote, this politician or that one actually bragged about how he or she had voted, as a member of the Kansas Legislature, to RAISE teachers' or professors' salaries.
And the underlying theme of some political commercials was: We, as Kansans, have a proud tradition of quality education. We don't want to jeopardize it.
I was curious. Is Kansas so much different from Utah that politicans actually fight over being the education candidate?
According to the just-published Almanac of The Chronicle of Higher Education, the two states could be two peas in the same education pod.
Kansas, with 2.5 million residents, ranks 32nd in population. Utah is 35th with 1.7 million. Both have a mainly Caucasian, educated population, with 74 percent of Kansans and 80 percent of Utahns having at least four years of high school.
The 66 percent of Kansas students who take the ACT average 19.1. The 67 percent of Utah seniors who take the ACT average 18.9. Both are above the national ACT average of 18.6.
While many states will see fewer college students in the next decade, both states are worried about fitting increasing numbers of students into their schools. Utah expects a 30 percent increase in higher education enrollment in the next decade. Kansas projects a 19 percent jump.
Both have full-time faculty making salaries below the national of $37,840. The average faculty pay at the four-year Kansas schools is $32,885; Utah's average is $34,060.
So why were Kansas politicians wielding the education sword in the battle for the vote? Obviously, the public buys it. But why?
One suggestion in The Chronicle of Higher Education is a Kansas campaign called the "Margin of Excellence." Prompting quality higher education, Hayden tried to restore cuts made during budget years hard hit by a poor farm economy with the "Margin of Excellence" program drafted by the Kansas Board of Regents. Because of its success, Kansas, in 1987, began a three-year program to boost faculty salaries and improve weakened library and research facilities. Kansas higher education received full funding in the first two years, but the plan was deferred this year because of the state's economic problems.
Despite the disappointment in the third year (and there may be more ahead because of tax-reform problems), Kansas has far outshone Utah in state funding to higher education in the past year two years. Kansas higher education averaged a 23 percent increase in state funds. Utah was given a 6 percent increase. The national average was a 14 percent increase in state funds.
(In fairness to Utah higher education, I should remind Utahns that officials have had their hands full battling tax initiatives just to hang onto the minimum.)
Perhaps it's time for Utah higher education to take a different tack. The emphasis on enrollment needs in this year's budget requests is a first step.
But maybe Utah higher education should develop its own quality campaign with a fancy title. It worked for Kansas. Routine budget requests haven't worked for Utah higher education.