Utah universities and community colleges are doing "an amazing job," says Utah Valley Community College's president, but they will have to do even fancier footwork to keep the quality up over the next 10 years.
"We will have triple the rate of graduating seniors in the next 10 years that we had in the last," Kerry Romesburg told a gathering of the Utah County Republican Women's Club this week."The kids are here, and we have to take care of them."
Romesburg said Utah students' ACT scores have dropped slightly over the past three years, bringing Utah averages close to national averages.
"We cannot dismiss the fact that our scores are average and keep saying our schools are the best in the nation. We have to admit there is a growing problem. We have more students than the teachers can handle without the quality of education suffering."
A reason for greater alarm, Romesburg said, is that ACT scores for Utah's female students average three points lower than those of males on the test's math and science sections.
"That may or may not be a result of our culture, but we know it's not an intelligence problem," he said. "Our daughters and granddaughters deserve the same educational opportunities our sons have had."
With the shortage of teachers and Utah's large class sizes in public school, teachers must often "teach more to the average" rather than trying to help slow students catch up and challenge gifted students, he said.
Romesburg said with the resources they have, he thinks Utah teachers and students are doing "an amazing job." But in a state with the nation's lowest per-student expenditure and one of the youngest populations, the pressure is on.
"We must not accept the problem and condone mediocrity," he said.
Universities and community colleges may have to ease the pressure by increasing tuitions, putting a cap on enrollment, using more technology such as televised classes or supporting a tax increase, he said.
"We will probably have to have a combination of all those things unless we want to ship our students to other states for education."
UVCC has felt the financial pinch for some time, he said. Its general studies division had to turn away more than 300 students winter quarter because of a shortage of teachers and space. And UVCC must hire most of its general studies teachers on a part-time basis.
"We can't pay them much, and they are not really available for much student counseling or work on committees," Romesburg said. "It's something we have been forced to do that is not really educationally sound."