Update on Higher Education Strategic Planning Commission

Colby Oliverson Newsletters

According to a report published by Georgetown University, over 95% of jobs created since the Great Recession require post-secondary education. The 21st century economy requires a dynamic and educated workforce. Post-secondary education levels correspond to higher average income and less government dependence. And whether it is supporting our children and/or others as they go through college; attracting employers looking to fill high-skill, high-paying jobs; or fostering innovation; higher education is key to supporting Utah’s quality of life.

During the 2018 Legislative General Session, House Bill 300: Higher Education Modifications was signed into law. The bill established the Higher Education Strategic Planning Commission whose aim is to develop a strategic plan to address the future challenges of Utah’s system of higher education.

H.B. 300 required that the Commission select a consultant to manage the strategic planning process, and in mid-2018, the National Center for Higher Education Management Systems (NCHEMS) was selected. In November 2018, NCHEMS identified the emergent themes that may need to be addressed in a strategic plan to include goals, adult students, work-based learning, affordability, organization, governance, and institutional missions. NCHEMS also outlined the data describing Utah’s higher education environment in terms of educational attainment, participation, completion, finances, affordability, workforce conditions, migration, etc.

The Commission next met in April 2019 and NCHEMS reviewed additional environmental data and highlighted questions for the Commission to answer, including:

  • How will the state create capacity to meet demand, especially in Utah County where most growth will occur?
  • What is the appropriate mix of brick-and-mortar expansion, online education, and productivity improvements to create capacity to meet demand?
  • With per-capita income and the wages of highly educated workers below the national average, how will the state expand the economy in ways that will increase income?
  • How will the system of higher education respond to workforce demands, notably for middle-skills jobs and for workers whom technology has displaced?
  • What does affordability mean and how will the system of higher education achieve/maintain it?
  • Utah has an aggressive attainment goal, but it does not appear to be driving policy decisions; does this goal need to be revisited?
  • What are the appropriate roles of the community college and dual-mission models in Utah?
  • Rather than permitting all institutions to offer all programs, should some programs be limited to an institution identified as the center of expertise?
  • Should distance education be left to institutional discretion or part of a statewide strategy?
  • What is the appropriate governance structure for the system of higher education?
  • What are the appropriate shares of funding for students and the state to bear?

H.B. 300 also required the Commission to hold regional meetings to gather stakeholder input for the strategic plan. NCHEMS identified nine regions and visited each during the spring.

NCHEMS is in the process of preparing a draft report of findings and recommendations, which should be presented to the Commission as soon as August. After reviewing NCHEMS’ report, the Commission will create a strategic plan to present to the Education Interim Committee in November.

The Governor remains committed to keeping Utah’s system of higher education both affordable for families and one of the best in the country. He is hopeful that the Commission’s recommendations will help achieve higher completion rates and an increased number of qualified graduates with skills relevant to today’s workplace while keeping costs in check.

For further details, visit the Commission’s website: https://le.utah.gov/asp/interim/Commit.asp?Year=2019&Com=SPEHEP