Education: Key to Utah’s Economic Recovery

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As Governor of this great state, I have a one focus: Utah’s economic recovery. To that end, education is my number one budget priority. Education is the seed corn for Utah’s economic strength and opportunity. Investment in education now will pay tremendous dividends in the future.

However, for lasting success, Utah must do more than increase education funding. We must also examine the way public education aligns with higher education, and the way educational outcomes align with employer needs.

To identify real solutions on this front, I created the Education Excellence Commission, an unprecedented forum for critical partners. The Commission sets goals and funding priorities, which then translate into my education policy agenda. This is not just another committee; it is an energized and productive working group, focused on solutions and outcomes.

My hallmark education goal—and the goal of the Commission—is based on Utah’s future workforce and quality of life. It is that 66 percent of Utah’s adult population, ages 20-64, will obtain a post-secondary degree or professional certification by 2020.

To maintain a robust and growing economy, this 2020 vision is essential. By 2018 the job market for individuals with post-secondary education will grow more than twice as fast as the markets for high school graduates and dropouts combined. Consider this: Students entering ninth grade this year could receive their undergraduate degrees by 2020 and earn 85 percent more income than those who end their formal education with high school.

To meet future workforce demands, we must also place added emphasis on STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, and math. Study after study confirms that the highest-paying and fastest-growing segment of the modern, global labor market lies in STEM areas. An educated workforce will meet Utah’s fast-growing demand for labor, and it is also our greatest opportunity for economic success.

Utah has its own unique education challenges, including the disparity in graduation rates between men and women. It is both troubling and unacceptable that in Utah, only 25.5 percent of women receive bachelor’s degrees, compared to 31.6 percent of men.

In response, I formed the Women’s College Task Force to advance strategies to help women complete degrees. Utah must do a better job of eliminating barriers to higher education completion. We start by fostering a college-going culture for all children, as well as improving counseling and advisement, mentoring, community-based resources, and flexible attendance and credit maintenance options.

Without question, Utah cannot accomplish our educational goals without exceptional and innovative institutions of higher education like Utah Valley University. Last fall, UVU boasted the largest enrollment among Utah’s public colleges and universities. UVU is certainly doing its part to equip a growing number of students with the knowledge and skills they need to succeed.

As your governor, I commend every UVU student for pursuing your personal educational goals and thank you for doing your part to reach Utah’s goals of an educated adult population, a stronger workforce and a prosperous state economy. Go, Wolverines!