SALT LAKE CITY — If Utah plans to revisit its earlier goal that 66% of adults earn a degree or certificate after high school, it needs to broaden the net of stakeholders who are invested in the plan, a consultant told members of a legislative commission Thursday.
Utah was one of the first state’s nationally to establish a postsecondary education goals when Gov. Gary Herbert, backed by his Governor’s Education Excellence Commission, launched the On PACE 66% by 2020 initiative. The goal was further refined by the Utah State Board of Regents but later morphed into 66% by 2025.
If the state of Utah is to revisit the goal or establish a new benchmark, the initiatives of other states and Utah’s own experience can help guide its way, said Jimmy Clarke, senior director of state policy with the education and health policy consulting firm HCM Strategists.
Broad-based support is a must, he said.
“The one thing that sticks out to me that the goal was established and was set by very few individuals or entities. It was a higher education goal. It was included and incorporated in a higher education document. It became higher ed’s responsibility,” Clarke said, addressing the Utah Legislature’s Higher Education Strategic Planning Commission.
Education of Utahns is much broader than the state’s higher education system, he said.
“It’s your social service entities. It’s your corrections entities. It’s your workforce. It’s your economic development. It’s your private entrepreneurship. It’s training programs, apprenticeship programs, with with a whole host of people and the actors outside of what people traditionally think of as higher education,” Clarke said.
Clarke said he believes that this time around, Utah is “broadening the net.”
The membership of the legislative planning commission, for example, includes state lawmakers, members of the board of regents, college and university presidents, technical college presidents, industry representatives, public education representative as well as the leaders of the state’s higher education and technical college systems.
While Utah did not meet its 2020 goal, Clarke said it is in better shape than many other states, with some 52% of Utahns holding some sort of postsecondary credential.
“You’re ahead of the game. Your economy, I think, reflects that right now,” he said.
That said, the examples of other states’ initiatives are instructive. Some states have set attainment goals ranging from 60% to 66%, with some state’s selecting numbers that coincide with major roadways in their states such as New Mexico’s “Route to 66,” which ties the initiative to the storied Route 66.
Branding and communication are central to the success of attainment initiatives, something Utah did not do with its On PACE 66% by 2020, Clarke said.
Leadership and a broad base of constituents are also important factors.
Arizona’s Achieve60AZ initiative set a goal of 60% of Arizona adults ages 25-64 will hold a postsecondary credential or degree by 2030. More than 140 different organizations, communities and elected bodies have endorsed or adopted Achieve60AZ, Clark said.
“Having that many different actors and organizations own part of it, it makes a difference, Here it was it was an isolated ownership,” referring to Utah’s experience.
Many states have created accountability metrics and online dashboards to track their progress toward attainment goals that are publicly accessible.
It doesn’t have to be a dashboard, per se, but something that is easily accessible and readily explains “Are we moving in the right direction or are we not?” Clarke said.
The data can be the launching pad for conversations on policy changes or issues that require further study, he said.