Utah business leaders shaping the direction of Prosperity 2020 are exploring a number of initiatives to strengthen higher education across the state including mission based funding, cluster acceleration and an increased emphasis on one and two-year programs in high-knowledge and high-skill areas.
Prosperity 2020 is a statewide movement of major business associations to improve public and higher education in Utah. United in their belief that education is the path to enduring prosperity, Utah business leaders have come together in a multi-year effort with initial goals to ensure 90 percent of elementary school students are proficient in reading and math and that two-thirds of all Utahns hold a postsecondary degree or certificate.
One and two-year programs
While there is a need for educated employees at all levels, many Utah employers say they have an increasing demand for employees with a certificate or an associate degree.
Two-thirds of Utahns holding a postsecondary degree or certificate may seem lofty—and it is—but it’s more within reach when one considers the number of people in our state who left school just a few credits short of a two-year degree or who would financially benefit from earning certification in their chosen profession.
"We are moving into a different economy that has an abundance of jobs that require high knowledge and high skills," said former commissioner of higher education Dr. Richard Kendell, who also serves as a professor of education leadership and policy at the University of Utah College of Education and an advisor to Prosperity 2020. "We have a particular need for degree and work programs at the one and two year levels."
Current cluster acceleration projects coordinate Utah’s workforce needs with educational efforts with particular focus on energy, digital media, aerospace and biotechnology. Business leaders like the idea of expanded funding for cluster acceleration projects and for the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) project, which builds Utah’s research and development capacity to develop new companies.
“We need to produce people ready to work in the jobs we’re creating and attracting,” said Dr. Kendell. “Utah’s economy is very diverse but we need to align degree programs and training programs with the emerging workforce needs of the state.”
The Prosperity 2020 Founders’ Council is also strongly supportive of mission-based funding for universities and colleges across the state. This would recognize that research universities and community colleges play very different roles in economic development and educating students, so their funding should also be different.
Success stipends and Regent Scholarships
Utah has the smallest budget of any state in the country for its need-based aid, program, called Success Stipends. The Prosperity 2020 Founders Council would like to see more aid to students who cannot afford higher education. They also give high ratings to the Regents Scholarship, which requires students to complete a rigorous high school education.
Prosperity 2020 leaders will continue their discussions regarding investment and innovation in both public and higher education. This fall, they will advance a formal legislative proposal to drive Utah toward the 2020 goals.