Utah's business community has told us that in order to compete in the global economy, the state needs to raise the share of its work force that has either college degrees or some other post-secondary certificate from the current 36 percent to 66 percent by the year 2020.
What makes that task even more daunting than it appears is the recent report from the Utah Women's College Task Force, co-chaired by former Gov. Olene Walker and Utah Board of Regents Vice Chair Bonnie Jean Beesley. That group found that the number of Utah women with such levels of education is not only below that of Utah men (25.5 percent to 31.6 percent), it also lags 2 percentage points behind the share of women nationwide. In many advanced nations, all those totals can reach as high as 60 percent.
While Utah's conservative culture talks the talk about the value of education, and sees many young women enter college, too many of them do not graduate. Their lives take a different path, to early marriage and motherhood, as brothers, husbands and sons earn their degrees.
In the long run, though, that trend can be a trap. A modern economy that demands two paychecks for a middle-class lifestyle and an irreversible trend toward more single motherhood mean that women are steered into the work force and need the best credentials they can bring.
At least as important, though, is task force research showing that even stay-at-home moms who have college degrees are healthier, emotionally stronger, better able to fully support all the needs of their children. And they are more active, through voting and through leadership, in ways that improve the society in which those children will grow up.
They are role models for their own daughters. And sons.
These generalizations ought not be read as demeaning all the wonderful mothers with less formal education. But they are true enough to demand respect.
The recent session of the Utah Legislature granted a $100,000 budget for a women's higher education hub to encourage women to begin, and to complete, their post-secondary eductions. It's a good start.