Utah's institutions of higher education are making heroic efforts to provide a first-class education with a bare minimum of resources. So say leaders from these schools, who identify significant roadblocks such as access to education, obstacles to completing degrees and lack of adequate preparation at the K-12 level. These educators call on Utah's business community to help advocate for a greater investment in the state's higher education system.
We'd like to give a special thank you to Mary Ann Holladay, director of the Utah Women and Education Initiative, for moderating the discussion.
What is the role of higher education in shaping our future workforce and the economy?
WIGHT: There are two major roles for us and one, of course, is to contribute to making a skilled workforce--getting students the skills that they need to survive in lucrative careers. But the second and perhaps more important role of higher education is to promote a mature citizenry, to make sure that students grow up and learn to think for themselves and become productive citizens. That's at least as important as acquiring skills because students, during their lives, will probably have four or five careers on average, not just one. So the skills that they get today will be temporary. But the maturity that they get as human beings will be permanent.
GOETZ: In this day and age of limited resources, you need to do that in a partnering way. But also we need to reach out to our secondary partners in a more effective way--and to industry--to do the alignment with workforce.
I look at our higher education institutions as community partners. We are the heartbeat of what happens in education, that centerpiece. To be able to reach out to all the people that play a role in education, not just secondary elementary partners and industry, but also the community as a whole, for that educated citizenry. If we do a better job of partnering, we will do a better job all the way around.
Are there some examples of partnerships that are working particularly well?
HENRIE: Salt Lake Community College is really proud of our partnership with L3 Communications. We created the curriculum and the programming, but we share space with them and they send us their workers. We train them and they are able to advance in their careers. L3 sits with our PAC committees. They help develop the curriculum. They tell us what they need and what they want, and we listen. So it's a great partnership for us.
BAYLE: At United Way we are all about partnerships. And, in fact, the business model that we have chosen to use for the work that we do is all about partnership. It's called Collective Impact, and it requires that all the different segments of our community and our society work together to advance common goals to make sure that kids and families in our community are achieving at the levels that they can and that they should be able to, without having the stigma that is often attached to kids and families who are high risk or ethnic minorities or whatever.
TAGGART: We have significant partnerships in Weber County between the tech college and Weber State University. That really is a win/win for many students. Many of our students are first-time college attendees and they are receiving technical skills so they can get to work. But we want to make sure that's not a dead end for them, that they have those additional opportunities once they have had success in a post-secondary environment.
We have significant pathways between the high schools and the tech college, and then between the tech college and the university We have pathways for students that complete one of our certificates to get an associate of applied science in general technology at Weber State, where completion of their technical certificate counts towards 30 hours of that associate's of applied science degree. We have partnerships between our apprenticeship program and an associate degree in apprenticeship at Weber State.
SNYDER: We have a program called University Neighbor Partners, located on the west side of the city, and it promotes access and opportunity for students, from a very young age, who might not otherwise see the university as an opportunity or even a possibility for them.
Another area where we are growing our relationship is with a program called the University Community Partners, which is really with employers to help students find pathways through internships, cooperative opportunities and actual jobs down the road.
JESSING: At Salt Lake Community College, they also have InnovaBio, which is a contract-type function that offers internships. We have a similar thing at Bioinnovations Gateway where we are creating internships, in this case for high school students, with existing companies that operate inside the high school. Those internship opportunities create the soft skills that go beyond what the typical curriculum would be in a classroom.
GOETZ: I can't help but give a shout-out to state agencies. There's a particular program that's been going on for several years called Utah Cluster Acceleration Partner, or UCAP, and that is one of the more outstanding partnerships I have seen in the last several years. It started out as a collaboration between the Utah Department of Workforce Services, the Governor's Office of Economic Development and the Utah System of Higher Education and the Commissioner's Office. The overall mission was to align higher education with workforce needs.
This was a very interesting partnership in that industry drove the conversation, but nearly every higher education partner in this room was engaged as a convener. And it focused on different clusters in economic development.
KEY: As we build new degree programs, we hold discussions like that to inquire what employers are looking for in an employee. So we have built, literally, new degree programs backwards, based on employers saying, "These are skills that a student with a master's degree in strategic communication needs to have."
HENRIE: I feel like Salt Lake Community College is a bridge for the Salt Lake Valley. We take from the K-12 system and get them ready for our four-year sister institutions, particularly the University of Utah. We have a huge number of transfer students that go into the programs up there.
We also bridge them into the workforce. So the concept of being the bridge, being the partner, building pathways--that's the key for all of us in the next five to 10 years, making sure there are clear, distinct pathways for our students to follow from K-12 into the workforce and then back into higher ed, if they need to. Because the economy is changing, jobs are changing, and the skills that they get today may not be the skills that they need for tomorrow.
Do you think the economy has forced innovation in education and do you have some examples of innovative approaches?
LEASURE: The economy continues to put pressure. The available funding is a limited pie that has to be shared out. So it puts pressure on all of us to find ways to apply technologies that reduce costs so that our education is affordable and accessible for the students that need it.
MADSEN: Not just the economy but other things happen externally. For example, the change in age requirements for LDS missions. That changes what we had done because we knew we would have thousands fewer students. Our strategies, this upcoming semester, are to really focus on trying to get students who are nontraditional, older, are in the workplace, or women who are at home, back to school. In two or three years it will catch up and we will see what happens.
SNYDER: There's been a decades-long trend that when the economy declines, students go back to school, and when the economy improves, people go to work. So the economy definitely impacts all of our enrollments, and we have to find ways to adjust to that and moderate those changes.
With the improving economy and the LDS mission change, have you seen enrollment decline recently?
SNYDER: We are not seeing a decline, but that is...