Utah goal: College or certificate for 2 of 3 by 2020

Oct 12 2010 - 1:22pm

SALT LAKE CITY -- The state education excellence commission wants two-thirds of Utah adults between the ages of 20 and 64 to have a college degree or certificate by 2020.

The goal was set after a Georgetown University study said two of every three jobs in Utah will require a post-secondary degree or certificate within the next decade.

Getting there won't be cheap, though.

Among other things, the commission's action plan calls for higher teacher salaries, restoring optional all-day kindergarten and hiring more counselors. However, those recommendations could change as the group continues to meet.

State Superintendent Larry Shumway said about 35 percent of Utah residents already have a college degree, while another 10 or 15 percent have a certificate.

Salt Lake Chamber CEO and commission member Lane Beattie said the definition of what qualifies as a post-secondary certificate may need to be a broad one, such as being certified by an employer in a computer program.

To reach the goal, the commission recommended addressing five broad categories: bolstering early childhood education, using technology, improving instructional quality, strengthening higher education and aligning education with economic development.

Facing a special election in November, Gov. Gary Herbert has frequently cited his commission's work as what will serve as the basis for his education plan.

Herbert's Democratic opponent, Salt Lake County Mayor Peter Corroon, has criticized Herbert for not offering an education plan of his own and said the state needs a 10-year plan.

Corroon's running mate, Rep. Sheryl Allen, attended Tuesday's commission meeting and said she was glad Herbert finally agreed a 10-year plan was needed and noted that Corroon called for one in August.

"What we need now is to refine an education plan and have the leadership to be tenacious about it and see that a plan is implemented," she said.

Herbert serves as chairman of the commission but said he hasn't committed to following all of its recommendations, stressing that he considers the action plan to be a draft. He told reporters he wasn't going to rush into providing specific recommendations before the election or the legislative session that begins in January.

"I want to make sure that we do it right and that's more important than doing it quick," he said.

Allen countered that a candidate's education plan is important for voters to know before they cast their ballots.

Education funding has long been a challenge in Utah, which spends less per student than any state and has the nation's largest class sizes, primarily because it has the nation's biggest families.

Education officials have recently tried to reframe the education funding debate by saying the lack of spending just means Utah is more efficient than other states.

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