Education panel sets ambitious goal for higher education
2020 • Its vision is that 66% of Utahns will have college degrees or post-secondary certificates.
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The Governor's Education Excellence Commission wants 66 percent of Utah adults to have college degrees or postsecondary certificates by 2020.

The commission, which includes education leaders, lawmakers and members of Utah's business community, approved that goal Tuesday after months of work. State Superintendent Larry Shumway said about 35 percent of Utah adults now have postsecondary degrees and about 10 to 15 percent have certificates, earned through training in areas such as diesel mechanics or medical assistance.

"We believe it's an attainable goal without a huge investment," said William Sederburg, Utah's commissioner of higher education and a commission member. "We, frankly, don't have a choice not to do it. If we don't try to meet these needs, Utah is going to slide down. The economy is going to demand we step up and do this."

The 66 percent is based on a report from Georgetown University's Center on Education and the Workforce that says by 2018, about 66 percent of jobs in Utah will require at least some postsecondary education.

"This study is supported by our business community and what we believe we will need to be competitive on not only the local stage, but on the regional and national stage for business," said commission member Mark Bouchard of the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce.

Commission member Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, expressed concern Tuesday that the 66 percent goal was "very, very big" but said he supports looking at new concepts to improve education.

"I'm interested in making sure that the product of this commission comprises a new paradigm for delivering education and not just new paint over old barnacles, and so far, I think what we've done today is compatible with that. But the details are going to be what really matter," Stephenson said.

Sederburg said he believes higher education can reach the goal if funding remains steady and with help from the private sector, online education and the Utah College of Applied Technology.

But many of the details are still being discussed.

The commission recommended Tuesday several draft strategies to reach the 66 percent goal, including: bolstering early childhood education; improving instructional quality and curriculum alignments; strengthening postsecondary education; aligning education with economic development; and using technology.

Commission members will work on details of implementing those strategies in coming months, but initial proposals unveiled Tuesday included continuing optional, extended-day kindergarten; raising teachers' salaries; funding universities based on their missions; and encouraging the State Board of Education to develop a plan to ensure 90 percent of students are proficient in math and reading in third and sixth grades.

Gov. Gary Herbert said Tuesday the plan is a work in progress. While he's hopeful the group will have specific proposals for the Legislature, he said, "I want to make sure we do it right, and that's more important than doing it quick."

"We're doing something a little revolutionary," Herbert said. "I'm committed to making us come together and getting some things done to raise the bar for education in the state."

The 66 percent goal comes amid a governor's race that has often focused on education. Herbert's Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, unveiled his own education plan in August — one that included sharpening high school graduation requirements and called for more funding.

Corroon's running mate, Rep. Sheryl Allen, R-Bountiful, said Tuesday she commends Herbert for "recognizing what Peter Corroon recognized in August, and that is that we need a 10-year education plan."

She said Corroon's plan does a better job of addressing funding.

Herbert said Tuesday he wasn't feeling pressure from Corroon to release a plan.

"This is about education excellence in Utah, our student population in all of its different forms and improving opportunities to develop skills," Herbert said. "This has nothing to do with politics."

Allen also said there's no reason to delay holding a special session until November to approve $101 million in federal education funding for Utah.

Christine Kearl, Herbert's education director, said a special session might not be called until then to give legislative leaders time to shore up support for the money in both houses of the Legislature. —

Commission's education vision

The Governor's Education Excellence Commission wants 66 percent of Utahns age 20 to 64 to earn college degrees or postsecondary certificates by 2020. The commission recommended several strategies Tuesday to reach that goal, including: bolstering early childhood education; improving instructional quality and curriculum alignments; strengthening postsecondary education; aligning education with economic development; and using technology.