In just four years, 66 percent of the Utah workforce will need college degrees or advanced certificates to meet employer needs, according to a June 2010 study released by Georgetown University.
In 2011, study author Dr. Anthony P. Carnevale, director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce, raised this warning: “Of the 1.6 million projected Utah jobs in 2018, only about one-fourth will be available to high school graduates. A quarter will go to those with some postsecondary training or college.” The bulk of the jobs, the study showed, are reserved for those who achieve associate, bachelors or graduate degrees.
In response to the Georgetown study’s recommendations the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission created a 10-year vision and action plan for Utah based upon Gov. Gary Herbert’s “On PACE 66% by 2020” initiative, which seeks to increase the state’s educational performance to reach the 66 percent benchmark. The vision is that at least two-thirds of Utahns ages 20 to 64 will have earned a postsecondary degree or certificate.
The “PACE” acronym represents initiatives to achieve the following by 2020:
Prepare young learners. Key metrics: 90 percent proficiency in 3rd, 6th and 8th grade reading; 90 percent proficiency in 3rd, 6th and 8th grade math; and 100 percent of high school seniors taking the ACT test.
Access for all students. Key metrics: a 90 percent high school graduation rate; 80 percent post-secondary enrollment rate; and elimination of waiting lists in required courses.
Complete certificates and degrees. Key metrics: 13 percent of the workforce will have board approved certificates; 14 percent of the workforce will have associates degrees; 28 percent of the workforce will have bachelor’s degrees; and 11 percent of the workforce will have graduate degrees.
Economic alignment. Key metric: 90 percent of graduates will be employed in their fields of study.
Thus, the “On PACE 66% by 2020” action plan identifies five strategic imperatives derived by the commission with input and recommendations from lawmakers, scholars and citizens to improve education attainment in Utah:
Bolster early childhood education
Improve instructional quality and curricular alignments
Strengthen post-secondary education
Align educational attainment and vocational training with economic development
Utilize technology to effectively and efficiently accomplish strategic imperatives
Today, Utah’s educational performance stands at 43 percent, well short of the 66 percent benchmark, according to a report by the business-led Prosperity 2020 initiative. But, by achieving 4 percent growth each year in degrees and certificates, Gov. Herbert has noted the state could still be on pace to reach the 66 percent benchmark by 2020.
“The test for Utahns now,” according to the Governor’s Education Excellence Commission action plan, “is whether or not we have the will and ambition to increase education attainment levels sufficiently to take advantage of future employment opportunities.” The commission noted that targeted investments that promote attainment of higher education levels lead to more and better paying jobs for Utahns and greater revenues for the state without tax increases.
To that end, Utah is graduating more high school students every year. In 2012, 81 percent of Utah seniors graduated from high school, the fifth year in a row that the state’s high school graduation rate has increased, according to a report in the Salt Lake Tribune. Newly appointed STEM Action Center Executive Director Tami Goetz says the challenge for Utah is to get more students into post-secondary education and retain them there. Financial challenges, marriage, religious missions and academics all weigh in, she notes. The state can’t control all of those factors, but “anything we do to improve success in STEM areas will help with college retention and with other degree areas, especially business,” she says.
But not everyone wants or needs a college degree. If they don’t earn a degree, they will need an advanced certificate. That’s where the Utah College of Applied Technology (UCAT) plays a critical role in meeting the goal of at least 13 percent of the workforce holding board approved certificates by 2020.
UCAT President Rob Brems says his school is working toward meeting Gov. Herbert’s goal by providing quality technical programs targeting the needs of Utah employers. “Much of the success UCAT has experienced over the last five years can be attributed to the cutting-edge, highly employable skills our students receive,” he says, noting that, in 2011, the State Board of Regents passed policy R473, which allows the state’s Applied Technology Colleges to develop articulation agreements with higher education institutions.
Most recently, the Mountainland ATC campus developed an articulation agreement with Utah Valley University allowing MATC students who have completed 900 hours of instruction in eight different program areas to receive up to 30 credits toward UVU’s Associate of Applied Science degree in Technology. Similar agreements have been made at all eight campuses.
Brems says UCAT’s unique mission focuses directly on employer needs. “With the support and guidance of more than 1,100 employer advisors aligning ATC programs with employer needs,” he says, “we are confident that with sufficient resources we can continue our history of success and meet the goals set forth by Gov. Herbert.”
Infrastructure investments are also critical for educational attainment. The Governor’s Excellence in Education Commission noted that, “Utah simply cannot support 109,000 more students earning certificates or degrees over the next 10 years with its current infrastructure at colleges and universities. Virtual teaching environments, online and distance learning and hybrid class schedules will make it possible for more students to receive instruction at lower costs than providing brick and mortar facilities. If Utah is to achieve its vision of 66 percent by 2020, technological innovation is an urgent necessity, not a luxury.”