Senator to suggest higher ed. improvements to Utah Legislature

Utah’s higher institution is getting public attention, but not necessarily for a good reason. A September New York Times article highlighted Utah college students’ low graduation rates.”Similarly, in Utah, for 100 students who enrolled in a public college, 71 chose a community college, 45 enrolling full time and 26 part time; after four years, only 14 of the full-time students and one of the part-time students graduated. Of the 29 who started at a four-year college, only 13 got their degree within eight years,” the article states. Senator Steve Urquhart, R-Utah, outlined ways USU and other higher education institutions can raise completion rates and improve the quality of education administered. Urquhart presented his plan to the USU Board of Trustees earlier this month and plans on presenting his ideas at the 2012 Legislative Session.Urquhart highlighted five areas that higher education institutions need to work on: college and career readiness of students, cost to students, flexibility in curriculum, monitoring student progress and governance within the education system. Changes to these areas that are necessary for colleges to get higher completion rates can be easy and inexpensive to implement, he said. “In my perspective, these are improvements to an already good system,” Urquhart said. Utah students know that no matter how they perform in high school, some higher education institution will take them, whether it’s a university or a college. Some might see this ease of acceptance as an open access to education, but Urquhart said what it really does is teach students they don’t need to prepare themselves in order to get into a university. He said high schools should raise expectations of their students gradually over time so that eventually enrollment standards will bring in more qualified freshman from high school. “I really do think if we set the standards our mothers, our kids will respond,” Urquhart said. Urquhart also recommends high schools take advantage of applied technology concurrent enrollment programs. This program allows high school students to begin learning specific trades and earn college credit. When a high school student graduates, they can use these skills to find a career, use the credits toward a college education and even use the skills to earn more money while putting themselves through school. USU already has 385 online courses, Urquhart said, but tuition costs could be reduced even more if technology was more wisely used in teaching. Besides saving the cost of having to have a doctorate level professor in the classroom, it would give students the opportunity to learn from experts at different universities across the state or across the globe. Technology could also be utilized in saving students some of the cost of textbooks as more electronic texts become available. Besides saving costs, electronic teaching methods could help more students graduate by making more flexible school schedules. College is expensive, and many students have jobs to help pay for the cost of tuition, but sometimes work schedules and class schedules collide. By increasing the amount of online classes, students could learn at their own pace and around work schedules, Urquhart said.Part of the reason students have a hard time sticking it out to the end of their degree is they don’t have a proper plan. It can be easy for a student to become disinterested in the schoolwork if they take a bunch of general education classes right up front and then take classes for the majors later on. Students usually pick a major that is interesting to them or that they’re passionate about, Often, the student is just taking the general education classes because it’s a requirement and they struggle to feel motivated. Urquhart said by enrolling students in major classes at the beginning might hold students’ interests and keep them motivated.Urquhart also suggests institutions redefine the roles of the Board of Regents and the Board of Trustees in order to spread responsibilities and better utilize the knowledge of the trustees. The senator’s full white paper on the subject, titled “Some Ideas to Improve Higher Education in Utah,” can be found on his

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