Rhett Wilkinson is a lead project manager for The Exoro Group, a public affairs firm in Salt Lake City. A senior in journalism and liberal arts at Utah State University, he has previously interned in Utah Congressional and Gubernatorial offices and for the Deseret News. Opinions are his own.
Utah’s Speaker of the House doesn’t think that the group can get two-thirds of the state to have a postsecondary degree or certificate by 2020, as it has set to do.
“It’s a big, audacious goal,” Rebecca Lockhart said at Utah State University in late April. “To be honest, I don’t think we can make it. Maybe by 2028.”
It’s true: as stated on the Prosperity 2020 website, the state’s high school graduation rate is in the lower than half of the country. That count is the fourth-lowest for Latinos and second-lowest among Asian and Pacific Islander students.
So the push. The business community behind the initiative got the state legislature this year to pass a joint resolution adopting the goals of 90 percent reading and math proficiency in elementary schools, along with 66 percent of adults starting postsecondary training by 2018. The goal was set after Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce revealed that many individuals must obtain a postsecondary degree or certificate in order to stay in the middle class. Unfortunately, only 39 percent of Utahns currently hold an associate’s degree or higher, according to the Utah System of Higher Education.
Members of the initiative—including business executives and non-profit leaders—have also made “strategic investments,” according to the website, toward measurable goals. A variety of funds was recommended for new investments in education, including an action center for those pursuing schooling in science, technology, engineering and math, early intervention for children at risk, ACT exams for every high school student and full commitment to fund computer-adaptive testing in Utah schools.
Projections for those funds have been prefaced by Prosperity 2020’s acknowledgment of the “budget challenges Utah faces.” That is certain: the amount of new revenue available for education funding dipped after Fiscal Year 2008 and is expected to rise to a similar level again for FY 2014, when nearly $2 out of every $3 in revenue is expected to go towards education.
The goals of Prosperity 2020 are commendable, but Lockhart may be correct in her assessment. Perhaps her assessment is most astute when considering the current percentage of Utahns holding an associate’s degree or higher and given the budget challenges Utah faces in the face of Prosperity 2020’s funding recommendations.
What is Prosperity 2020? According to the Salt Lake Chamber’s website:
The Salt Lake Chamber has partnered with chambers of commerce and business associations from all over Utah in a movement called Prosperity 2020 to strengthen our economy by improving education.
Learn more about it at the Salt Lake Chamber’s site.
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