Utah's economy is one of the strongest in the nation as we shake off the effects of the Great Recession. Our state unemployment rate is dropping and our growth is back to our historical, pre-recession rate. Continuing our growth and building a strong economy for the decades to come requires the development of a world-class workforce.
To make a real difference in education, we must think like a business. I oversee operations in a multi-state region for a Fortune 400 company with a global reach. My business experience has taught me we need a vision, a strategy to make it happen and the resources to implement the strategy. You cannot remove any of these elements from the equation and expect to be successful. The vision drives the strategy, and the strategy drives the investment.
Gov. Gary Herbert has set the vision: to build a strong economy by ensuring we have a well-educated workforce. He has established clear goals: 66 percent of all Utah adults must earn a college degree or skilled trade certificate by the end of the decade; 90 percent of our 3rd, 6th and 8th grade students must be proficient in reading and mathematics; and 90 percent of our high school students must take the ACT exams to ensure they are prepared for post-secondary education.
I attended the governor's education summit this past week as he laid out the elements of his P.A.C.E. program. This program lays out the specific methods we will use to accomplish his 66 percent goal by 2020: preparing young learners, providing access for all students, completing certificates and degrees, and ensuring economic success.
Utah faces unique challenges. We have the youngest and one of the fastest-growing populations in the nation. Because of that we have larger class sizes. Our educators do a tremendous job, and the return on the investment we make in education is not to be understated. Our advanced-placement test and ACT scores are among the highest in the nation. But we can still do better.
All too often, the discussion about education starts and ends with funding. Two of every three dollars in our state budget are spent on education, including an increase of $200 million this year. Funding is part of the solution, but it is not a solution by itself. Until we have a strategy for how we will make the most of every dollar available, additional funding will not get us where we want to be.
No business leader wants to address a challenge by simply spending more money. Spending more isn't the goal; getting the right outcome is the goal, and appropriate spending is part of what we do to get there.
Businesses measure their return on investment, and education is the area with the greatest potential for a significant long-term payoff. That investment must come, not only in actual dollars, but also in volunteer hours in the classroom, a commitment to innovation and collaboration.
Leadership matters. The governor has led on this issue and made education his top budget priority. He has played an important role in bringing groups of people together groups that don't always get along to find and build on common ground through his Education Excellence Commission. With the leadership of the state's chief executive, the Legislature, the business community, educators and parents, Utah is clearly making education a top priority.
Mark Bouchard is the senior managing director of CBRE and a member of the governor's Education Excellence Commission.