A Critical Tipping-Point for Utah Higher Education
A Joint Statement by the Utah State Board of RegentsUtah Commissioner of Higher Education andPresidents of Utah’s Public Colleges and UniversitiesNovember 13, 2009
With the 2010 session of the Utah State Legislature approaching, as citizens we face a criticalmoment in our state’s history. Forty years ago the people of Utah, through their elected representativesin the State Legislature and the Governor, established the Utah State Board of Regents withresponsibilities for Utah’s nine public colleges and universities. Today, these institutions are providingeducation for 164,860 students, and employ 29,933 Utahns. In total the state’s nine public collegesand universities grant over 35,000 degrees and certificates to students annually. The hopes andeconomic futures of Utah families depend on their ability to access a quality higher education. Today,the strength of the system Utah has built is at considerable risk of being irreparably harmed.Together we take very seriously the responsibility entrusted to us. We view this as astewardship to the people of our state and have an obligation to advise state policymakers and thepublic that the next year could prove critical to the future of Utah’s public colleges and universities andthose they serve. Indeed, we are at a critical “tipping point,” not just for higher education, but for thestate as a whole.Utahns’ commitment to higher education was evident from the earliest days after pioneersettlement, when in 1850—before many settlers even had houses—they established a university.Utah’s history is filled with similar examples of commitment in communities up and down the state,where the people of Utah prized education enough to make remarkable sacrifices. As we face thefuture, we cannot and should not forget this history that brought us the opportunities we have today.
Benefits of Higher Education
Higher Education today brings tangible results for those who earn it.
The lifetime earnings of a college graduate (on average) are double that of a high schoolgraduate.
According to the Department of Workforce Services, this year 75% of Utahns filingunemployment claims have a high school degree or less, and only 15% have a college degree.
Each year’s crop of college graduates contributes approximately $500 million annually to thestate’s economy in increased wages.
There is near-perfect (1-to-1) correlation of a state’s economic success and the portion of theirpopulation that is college-educated.
Utah’s Research Universities attract approximately $500 million a year in out-side researchfunding, responsible for 10,000 jobs, and create dozens of new companies a year employingmany more.In both urban and rural areas of the state, colleges and universities serve as tremendouseconomic engines. And in smaller communities they are also the cultural epicenters that contributeimmeasurably to quality of life of Utah citizens.Even with these benefits, Utah is beginning to fall behind, relative to the rest of the nation, incollege attainment. Utah has dropped below the national average on adults ages 25-44 with anAssociate Degree or higher. And as pointed out by the Utah Foundation just last month, Utah’s rankingof adults with a bachelor’s degree has fallen from 5
in the nation in 1940, to 16
in 2000, and to 18
in2008, at a time when higher education is more important than ever. Now is not the time to make itmore difficult for Utahns to attend and graduate from college.