Economic Development Report
Like many governors, Governor Leavitt was very interested in economic development and he was trying to do a number of things to put Utah in a favorable position for the new economy and he saw that the new economy would be much more based on higher educational and workforce qualifications, and a requirement for more people with a technical background, people in science and engineering and mathematics. He was concerned that we were not training enough people to meet the future demand, so his idea was very simple: let’s provide money to the colleges of engineering so they can increase their capacity to train students. Over time the reports will show that about 10 million dollars of permanent money was infused into higher education institutions so that the colleges could increase their capacity to train engineers. What that means is they hired additional faculty, they opened up more enrollment, they created additional classroom and research space. So theoretically, if they were accepting 100 students, they could now have an increment and go to 120, 130, etc. The initial focus was on the two research universities, Utah State and University of Utah. That’s where the engineers were being trained. But as you might guess, everybody acknowledged that a pipeline had to be created, and so money was provided to the other institutions, as well, so they could cultivate pre-engineering students and move them into the pipeline. They would eventually transfer from Snow College or Salt Lake Community College and end up at one of the two universities. The reports on the engineering initiative document showed a year to year increase in the number of students admitted, the number of graduates that were coming out of the two universities, and the number of students that were transferring from the smaller transfer institutions. The Governor was very ambitious about this. He wanted to double the number of engineering students, not just students, but the number of graduates.
He had a time frame. He wanted to do it in 5 years, that’s my memory. So if you start in 2001, 2002, he was hoping that by the time we got out to 2007, the graduate rate would be double. I don’t believe that was ever realized. Then the Governor said in one of his State of the State speeches that he wanted to triple the number, but there was never the money to do that. We just didn’t have a pipeline in place and we didn’t have the resources in place to double and then triple. But the increment was significant. And I think the legislature generally felt this was a very good thing to do and they provided support for it, even during periods when there was very little money for new programs and to support higher education. We were in a bit of a downturn in the early part of this decade, 2001, 2002, 2003, when this was in place and it had some hard sledding. Typically what the legislature would do would be to provide one-time money for that year. But you can’t hire people on one time money. You hire them and there’s an expectation of continued employment. So as a strategy, that didn’t work very well, but the colleges took it and said we’ll do the best that we can with it. So the funding was actually quite a bit less than what had been requested, but over time, I think it added up to nearly 10 million dollars of ongoing money that was infused into engineering. An additional $ 7.5 million of onetime money was provided as well. I think last year there was not any money for the engineering initiative, there might have been a small amount of one time money. But I think Leavitt’s idea was pretty much realized and I think embraced by the legislature and certainly by the business community. This is a very important element about the engineering initiative. The legislation created a committee to guide the implementation of it and it was put in the hands of John Sutherland who was an engineer by training and background, but John also had a lot of interest in education and in the education of engineers and so John played a big role in helping the Governor get a group of business leaders together in the high tech world to implement and to guide this. So companies like L3 Communications, ATK Thiokol, Northrup, or Boeing who had businesses that were very dependent on engineers and scientists guided the direction of the engineering initiative for a number of years. We also had the deans involved in the process, but the business community played a key role. It was a pleasure for me as Commissioner to watch this because we would go to the appropriations process at the capital and John Sutherland would bring in 10 senior executives from these companies and almost without exception, they would come to the podium and say we have room for 30 new engineers today at a particular company if we could find a way to attract and hire them. And so that was really fun to watch.
I think the legislature responded better to the engineering community than they did just to the higher education community. So that was a very good thing to do. I think we made progress every year during the last 3 years of the Leavitt administration, up through the Walker administration and into the Huntsman administration with the engineering initiative. It was pretty much an unbroken pattern of support, although some years were better than others. I think right now the engineering initiative is not a high priority. I think there is a general sense that the energy behind it has dissipated somewhat. I still hear people talk about it. But in terms of actions in the legislature actually saying we think that this engineering initiative is so important, we’re going to put another 5 million dollars into it, it’s just not there. Anyway, I think it was a very bold initiative, the Governor formulated it, and he got key sponsors and other supporters. Lyle Hillyard was the sponsor of SB 61 [ 2001, Enhancements to the State Systems of Public and Higher Education]. He took it under his wing as a project that he would follow every year and I think it was one of the more successful things I’ve been involved with in terms of an initiative that really got acceptance and that was supported over time.
Was a 25% growth rate realistic? I think the growth was more like 25 to 35 %, it varied a little bit from year to year in terms of how many students. The official reports will have the actual numbers. There was one other factor that was a bit difficult for the institutions and that is they had to match the money with their own internal funds. And I think it became a bit of a burden over time. I think the engineering schools said, we’re going to do everything we can to meet this match, but we’re finding that it’s more and more difficult to meet the matching requirement. So that was a complication. And I think the last year I was involved in it, which would have been fiscal ‘07-‘08, I guess, many of the deans and some of the presidents were saying, we really want to continue the engineering initiative, but we’re having more and more difficulty with the match, do you think we can get the legislature to put up the full amount instead of a principal amount with a match. But on the whole it was a very successful initiative. I think Leavitt should put in his portfolio of accomplishments the engineering initiative as one of those things that was a big success.
The other part of the engineering initiative was the Public Education Job Enhancement Program. It was essentially a complement to it. There was recognition that you cannot just produce engineers at the time they enter college. You really have to prepare for an engineering program and that preparation begins in junior high school. Now that’s not to say people don’t change their minds and enter engineering without that prerequisite background, but they have a bit of an uphill pull. So how do we get people in public education to pay more attention to this, and how do we better prepare teachers so they can cultivate these students who eventually move through the system and become engineering students or medical students or science students. We’ve already covered one of those ideas. Again, Leavitt was, he is a big idea guy. So the early college high tech high school idea was a way of getting students involved, basically trying to catch them early enough that they could get into a high tech curriculum and move through and then transfer to an engineering or science program. The other one was focused on teachers. And there was recognition that many of the people teaching in high school did not have the preparation for it. They maybe had a couple of classes in math, maybe they had 2 or 3 classes in biology or chemistry, but too many of them did not have adequate preparation. So the engineering initiative, the same bill, created the Public Education Job Enhancement Program which was to be a series of incentives for teachers to get into math and science and to stay there and be the mentors of the future engineers.
That was the whole idea. Like a lot of legislation, it was fairly general. It outlined what was to be accomplished, that is to provide incentives for teachers to enter teaching, to stay in teaching and to be rewarded for being teachers. So when SB 61 came to me, the Governor came in my office and said, “put the flesh on these bones” and get this program up and going. So I called John Sutherland and we got an advisory committee together and we quickly came up with awards that we thought were consistent with the legislation. I put together an outline of this and I sent it to Senator Hillyard and said, these are the things we’re planning to do. We’ve got these signing bonuses, we have scholarship money for students who want to go back to school and get recertified and we also want to recognize excellence. We want to keep our best people. He liked our general outline and I took the outline out to the superintendents, I asked them what they thought. It was a mixed review, I must say. They were very keen on the advancement awards of getting people to go back to school to get the degrees and the preparation that they wanted. They were a bit lukewarm on the excellence awards. They were afraid that recognizing math and science teachers to the exclusion of other teachers would create some morale problems, and they did.
Some teachers, this is anecdotal, resented the idea that math and science would get more attention than English or Spanish or language arts. But nevertheless, we proceeded with the advancement awards and we proceeded with the excellence awards, although I think we only had enough money to do the excellence awards twice. I think we had two cohorts of teachers that got the excellence awards. But the idea was, give them a bonus for what they are now, we’ve got a person with a master’s degree in biology and is considered to be an exemplary teacher, let’s do what we can to keep them there. Let’s give them $10,000 over 4 years and it’ll be a nice incentive for them to stay and do what they are doing. While I like the excellence awards, they had mixed reviews, but we got them implemented and we had a lot of teachers apply for them and I was pleased those teachers had an opportunity to stay doing what they really wanted to do. The advancement awards had a lot of appeal for the reasons I mentioned. Teachers wanted to have better preparation and school districts wanted them to have better preparation. This was a way to pay for their tuition and fees and books, and in some cases we paid for transportation. Let’s say you have a teacher in Panguitch and they wanted to get an endorsement in math but had to travel to Cedar City to do that. We would give them a stipend to travel and go to school. Sometimes we took care of their living costs if they had to stay overnight (or hazard pay to go on that highway from Panguitch to Cedar City). So that had a lot of appeal.
The signing bonuses did not have a lot of appeal to superintendents in the school districts. Again they thought it was a bit divisive. They were much more focused on equal treatment for all of their teachers. And I had some superintendents who called me up and gave me a hard time saying, I don’t need a math teacher out here in my district. I need a band teacher and just send me the money for a band teacher. I had some interesting conversations with superintendents who were not all together happy that this much money was put into this program. But nevertheless, I thought it was complementary of Leavitt’s goal of trying to improve math and science instruction, trying to get more kids prepared in math and science, and moving them into colleges of engineering. The goal was to produce people who could advance our economy. There was enough concern about this initiative that after the first year of implementation I started to hear from some legislators who wanted to change the direction and purpose of the program. And this was difficult because they were saying, we’ve got needs in our school district that don’t happen to be math and science, we want the money for another purpose. We were able to push back on that and say, well, this was a math and science initiative. The only one that really prevailed over time was special education. I remember Marta Dilree from Davis County called me in and said, we’ve got to change this law. The demand for special education teachers is so great that we’ve got to change the law and allow special education teachers to get these grants, these advancement awards. I didn’t have any difficulty with special education teachers getting awards, but the only problem was it all had to come out of the same fund. They didn’t say, this is a big demand, we’ll put together another 2 million dollars or another 3 million dollars for special ed teachers. They said the money will remain fixed but now it’s going to be special ed, math, science, and those related disciplines. And as a result, special ed now gets a majority of the awards. I don’t begrudge using the money for special ed, but I think as a science initiative and math initiative, it’s really been depleted. And I think that’s very unfortunate. The need is the same today, if not greater, that many districts are still reporting their inability to get math and science people; that there’s considerable turnover with math and science people; and that they can’t be competitive with the private sector. All of the same issues are still there. And yet, one of these really important initiatives to do this, has just gotten depleted over time. I think that’s very unfortunate.
I’m now part of an initiative here at the University of Utah called the Math Enterprise and we’re right back in it again, saying, how do we get more math people, how do we get more people to go into mathematics? To some extent, it’s a market issue. People are doing so much better in the private sector that they don’t think about teaching as a career. The number and quality of the preparation programs is not adequate to meet the demand. I think if we’re going to produce a new generation of scientists and mathematicians, it doesn’t start in college, it normally starts in the earlier grades. But a lot of kids have a great interest in science in the elementary grades. If you say, would you rather do an art project or would you rather go out and catch salamanders and do experiments with salamanders, they’ll take salamanders as often as they’ll take an art project. By the time you get into junior high school we start to lose students and that continues into high school. So the range of possibilities for improvement is enormous. But the bottom line is that we have far too few students who choose to study and pursue math and science programs.
I think teaching will be more attractive over time. Much of the new money coming through the legislature has gone into teaching. The last several years, teachers have gotten anywhere from 3 to 6 % salary increases, and then at least in two of those years, they received one-time bonuses. That’s a pretty good deal. Teachers’ salaries are never going to be quite like private sector engineering jobs, but I think a lot of people would find teaching a very satisfactory work, even gratifying work. And if they can get a salary that they think provides them with a good middle class lifestyle, I think we’ll be able to keep people there. I don’t think we’re going to get in the upper reaches of salaries, but if you could project that math and science faculty can anticipate making within 5 years of starting, somewhere in the $55,000 to $65,000 a year, I think you would find a lot of people who would agree to teach all things considered, and given the benefits that are there, and the lack of risk, I think a lot of people would do that. And a lot of people in Utah, for example, are somewhat place bound. They understand there are great opportunities in Los Angeles, but if they had an opportunity to stay in Kaysville, Utah, they’d probably do it. So the challenge is still there. It’s framed up the same kind of way. It is still driven in part by market constraints, it’s still framed up by inadequate preparation, it’s still framed up by not enough focus on math and science in school and the fact that a lot of students don’t want to choose math and sciences courses. When students don’t want to take science, I think it’s generally because we’re not presenting the subject very well, because it’s inherently so fascinating. And I think when students realize what they could do for careers with that math and science background, it really turns on a light. I just don’t think they see it. I have some just purely anecdotal experience with that. I remember Salt Lake Community College and the Granite School District sponsored a science symposium for young women and they brought in a scientist from San Diego who was the president of a company that grows tissue. The hundred young women that were there were absolutely fascinated with it because they were growing this tissue and using it for burn patients and people who were severely injured. And I know the people sitting at my table said, “I have no idea, how do you get into this kind of business.” They were really excited by the prospects. But I’m not sure we show people a window of what scientists do and what engineers do and a lot of it is really fascinating work.
In summary I think from the Leavitt administration perspective, the engineering initiative was a really successful program. I would say all of the college deans, I think, the business community would say this is one of the really good things that the state legislature did and that Governor Leavitt did. I would say that the Public Education Job Enhancement Program initially had a lot of support, but I think it has certainly changed direction. It is not a science, engineering or math program any more. It is largely driven by the needs of special education. I would judge it to be successful, but I think it needs to get reinvigorated. So that’s Senate Bill 61.
What I’ve covered for you has been the early college high schools, the engineering initiatives, and the job enhancement program. I think the Governor should take pride in all three of those. I think all three are very successful ventures. But they’ve had various degrees of success. I think the early college high schools are going to continue. I think they will be successful, they need better support like many new ideas. The engineering initiative is essentially over for this phase, but it was very successful during its implementation. The job enhancement program needs to be put back on track. And I’m sorry it got changed over time. I don’t know quite what the dynamics were. Because you can make a very good case that special ed is having a hard time recruiting people but at the same time, it doesn’t diminish the demand for people in math and science. One other thing that’s happened that is worth noting. It’s not part of the Leavitt administration, but it’s an outgrowth of the early college high schools, is that Huntsman has had the idea, and there’s a history to it, to create 5 USTAR [Utah Science Technology and Research initiative at the University of Utah] high schools. One of them is supposed to be in Cedar City. This is a continuation of the USTAR idea of trying to get centers of excellence in math and science in various places and to cultivate students so they can go on to be engineers, scientists, and mathematicians, and so forth. The origins of this happen to be the Dave Sperry study on teacher supply and demand. There was a proposal in there for schools to move to an 11-month schedule and it would give teachers a full time salary instead of a 9 month salary. They would go from 9 months, maybe 185 days of pay to 220 to 230 days of pay. And based on their rate of pay, if they were making $40,000 a year, it would take them to $50,000 a year. And this is part of the Leavitt legacy. And so some good things have sprung out of the early ideas and they weren’t necessarily done during Leavitt’s time, but they are a natural follow on to what the Leavitt administration did. So that’s worth looking at. Let me just suggest some other things if you haven’t looked at them. Many important scholarship programs were initiated during the Leavitt years and should be part of your study.
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