Governor Leavitt’s service on the Utah State Board of Regents helped him to understand the higher education system in Utah and its critical role with respect to economic development. The governor saw the power of new technology as a means to provide greater access to higher education for Utah’s citizens (Headfirst into High Tech http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW20031207.pdf). In addition to broadening access to higher education, the governor believed there were ways to accelerate completion of a university degree for qualified high school students.
Concurrent enrollment had been very successful in Utah, just as the Advanced Placement courses had been (NACEP http://nacep.org/). Governor Leavitt believed that qualified high school students, through concurrent enrollment and informed advisement, could simultaneously earn their high school diploma and an associate degree by the time they graduate from high school. Governor Leavitt envisioned offering a state funded scholarship for the last two years at a state institution of higher education as an incentive to high performing high school students. The Governor proposed the New Century Scholarship for all program participants that would cover 75% of the students’ tuition to earn a bachelor’s degree at a state funded institution of higher education (Governor Seeks 6.9% Boost For Higher Ed http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19991211.pdf).
Indeed, in November 1998, Governor Leavitt met with county officials, mayors, county commissioners, and public education officials in Rich County to discuss local government and educational issues. The day went well and upon adjourning, the local high school officials wanted the Governor to meet a student who had moved to Rich High School from Georgia.
This student had taken a large number of concurrent enrollment classes, earning a large number of college credits, and could have earned an associate degree while completing high school. Speaking with the student convinced the Governor’s about the viability of the New Century Scholarship. The Governor, coming from a business background, was particularly interested in building in incentives and efficiencies into the school system. The New Century Scholarship embraced that philosophy.
Benefits of the New Century Scholarship
There is an important policy lesson to be learned by the New Century Scholarship. First, the Governor believed that the state could realize savings by more efficiently managing the transition between the public education and higher education systems, which would also greatly benefit individual students. This program, if managed appropriately, could provide a way for students to earn both an associates and bachelor’s degree at a young age without placing a large financial burden on the student or the student’s family. The scholarship would save the state money as students would complete their degrees more quickly cutting the cost of students being on a college campus two additional years.
Another positive spinoff of this project was that small high schools began to offer advanced courses via distance technology. Interested and qualified students in smaller high schools were able to enroll in advanced courses even where there may be only a few fellow classmates at their location through the state sponsored EDNET system (Technology, Equipment Outdated in Utah’s Colleges http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19930206.pdf). This element of the program was particularly important, especially in rural areas of Utah, because the Governor was committed to use the EDNET system to offer the best educational opportunities to all students across the state regardless of the students location or school. Therefore, every student in Utah was eligible to take advantage of the New Century Scholarship program.
Higher education officials had reservations about the program because the program had the potential of decreasing enrollments and awarding degrees when the institution did not maintain full quality control over the course of study. Higher education officials were finally persuaded to jump on board, and they eventually spoke in favor of the proposal during the legislative session. The legislature was fully in support of the program and the legislation was enacted and funded (Lawmakers Vow to Support Leavitt’s Centennial Schools http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19930119a.pdf).
21st Century Schools Program
Believing that the Centennial Scholarship program had been successful but had been taken as far as it could go, Governor Leavitt proposed the 21st Century Schools program in 1998 (Shaping the Future: The Promise and Potential of the 21st Century http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/SP/ms122SP19980119.pdf, Big Apple Could Teach Utah About Education, Leavitt Says http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19930524.pdf). He wanted to provide incentives and rewards for schools that were willing to be more accountable for the results they achieved. The Governor felt that incentives were better than mandates as the era of school accountability was gaining ground nationally. The 21st Century Schools initiative provided incentives for schools to receive additional funds from legislative appropriation for meeting some rigorous standards (Search Begins for Schools to get Centennial Funds http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19930603f.pdf, Higher Education Officials And Legislators Get Cordial http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19980717.pdf). Initially, only a small number of schools could apply to become a 21st Century School. These self-selected schools were required to establish five goals for which they would be held accountable. Three of the goals were to be academic in nature and were to improve student achievement. Two goals could be in other related school areas. Successful schools that provided evidence of meeting their goals would be rewarded $50,000-$125,000. Participating schools had three years to meet these goals (Leavitt Hails 85 Centennial Schools http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19930626.pdf, Leavitt Delighted At Progresses Shown in 2nd Year of Centennial Schools http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19941004b.pdf).
This program lasted only a few of years although it was well-conceived and philosophically in harmony with the Governor’s desire to use incentives (Doubts Fly On Centennial Utah Schools Senator: Centennial Schools Fall Short http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19950420b.pdf). The 21st Century Schools program was intended to be a transition between the Centennial Schools program and the enactment the reading initiative and U-PASS. As stated, the following year, the federal government enacted No Child Left Behind, which changed the school accountability landscape entirely.
The idea of self governing accountability and providing incentives for achievement built into the 21st Century Schools program essentially disappeared with No Child Left behind because No Child Left Behind sought to achieve accountability through identifying poor performing schools not meeting federally established requirements, and yet, provided no rewards or recognition for school that excelled in meeting or exceeding the established standards. While it may not be accurate to use the word “failure” to describe No Child Left behind, many experts, states, and commentators consider it a failure (No Child Left Behind Act http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/No_Child_Left_Behind_Act). The 21st Century Schools program, on the other hand reflected the Governor’s idea that incentives are a more productive way to motivate school improvement (Unite to Improve Education http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19981208c.pdf).