Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics & Public Service

Project Prologue

Engineer Initiative and Public Job Enhancement Program

Like many governors Governor Leavitt was interested in economic development and he tried to do a number of things to put Utah in a favorable position for a 21st century economy (Leavitt Hints at Big Plan). He saw that the new economy would be more based on higher educational and workforce qualifications as well as require more people with a technical background such as science, engineering and mathematics (Greenspan Urges States to Educate). He was concerned that Utah was not training enough people to meet the future demand. To correct this idea was very simple: Provide money to the colleges of engineering so they can increase their capacity to train students. 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, and they created additional classroom and research space. 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 University and the University of Utah. That’s where the engineers were being trained. Everyone involved acknowledged that a pipeline had to be created so money was provided to the other institutions as well so they could cultivate pre-engineering students and move them into the pipeline. The students would eventually transfer from Snow College or Salt Lake Community College and end up at one of the two universities.  The engineering initiative reports 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 institutions.  The Governor was very ambitious about this initiative. He wanted to double the number of engineering students and especially the number of graduates (Utah Engineering Rolls To Soar Leavitt Plans To Double Number, Boost Funding, Higher Education Drives Economic Growth). Governor Leavitt wanted to achieve the goals of the engineering initiative within five years. In 2001-2002, he was hoping that by the time it was 2007, the graduate rate would be double. In one of his State of the State speeches the Governor Stated that he wanted to triple the number, but there was not enough money.  There was not a pipeline or enough resources in place to double and then triple the numbers but the increment was still significant. The legislature generally felt this was a good thing to do and they provided support for it even during periods when there was very little money for new programs and higher education. There was a downturn in the early part of the 21st Century (2001, 2002, and 2003) when the initiative was in place and it had some hard sledding. Typically the legislature would provide one-time money for that year but the state can’t hire people on one time money because there is an expectation of continued employment. The colleges took it anyway and decided to do the best that they could with it.  The funding was originally quite a bit less than what had been requested but over time 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. By 2008 there wasn’t any more ongoing money for the engineering initiative, though some one time money may have been used (Leavitt Seeks Funds for ‘Silicon Alliance’).

As a whole, Leavitt’s idea was realized and embraced by the legislature.  One of the most important elements of the engineering initiative was that it was also enthusiastically supported by the business community.
The legislation created a committee to guide its implementation and it was put in the hands of John Sutherland who was an engineer by training and background. John had a lot of interest in education and in the education of engineers so he 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 the project.

Companies like L3 Communications, ATK Thiokol, Northrup, and Boeing, who had businesses that were very dependent on engineers and scientists guided the direction of the engineering initiative for a number of years. The deans were also involved in the process. During the appropriations process John Sutherland would bring 10 senior executives from these companies and almost without exception they would ask for thirty new engineers on any given day for a particular company if they could find a way to attract and hire them (High-Tech Head-Hunt Boosts Salaries, Competition Keen As Even Undergrads Can Quit School, Name Their Price; Jobs May Grow with Cadence). The legislature responded better to the engineering community than they did to the higher education community.  Progress was made with the engineering initiative every year during the last 3 years of the Leavitt administration, up through the Walker administration and into the Huntsman administration. As of 2009 the engineering initiative was not a high priority. By then the energy behind it had dissipated. In terms of the legislature actively putting a substantial sum of money into the initiative the energy is gone.

It was a bold initiative, the Governor formulated it, and he got the 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 it was one of the more successful things in terms of an initiative that really got acceptance and that was supported over time. The growth was more like 25 to 35 % rather than the original plan that called for 25%; it varied a little bit from year to year in terms of how many students came into the program. Another factor that was a bit difficult for the institutions and that is they had to match the money with their own internal funds which became a burden over time. During the fiscal year of ‘07-‘08 many of the deans and some of the presidents were saying that they really wanted to continue the engineering initiative but they were having more and more difficulty with the match and wanted the legislature to put up the full amount instead of a principal amount with a match. On the whole it was a very successful initiative and one of Governor Leavitt’s big successes (Governor Seeks 6.9% Boost For Higher Ed, Legislators Appropriate $227.9 Million For Utah Education). Another part of the engineering initiative was the Public Education Job Enhancement Program which was essentially a complement to it (Quality And Licensing https://www.schools.utah.gov/file/9fa84e57-9914-43da-b808-2f97c844acbe). There was recognition that one cannot just produce engineers at the time they enter college. One has to prepare for an engineering program and that preparation begins in junior high school. That’s not to say people don’t change their minds and enter engineering without that prerequisite background, but it’s an uphill battle. The problem was getting people in public education to pay more attention to this, and better preparing teachers so they can cultivate these students who eventually move through the system and become engineering students, medical students or science students.  The early college high tech high school idea was a way of getting students involved, trying to catch them early enough that they could get into a high tech curriculum, move through and then transfer to an engineering or science program. The other aspect was focused on teachers; there was recognition that many of the people teaching in high school did not have the preparation for it. Many just had a couple of classes in math and 2 or 3 classes in biology or chemistry, but too many of them did not have adequate preparation. 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. 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. When SB 61 came to Commissioner Rich Kendell Governor Leavitt asked him to “put the flesh on these bones” and get the program started and running. Commissioner Kendell then called John Sutherland and they quickly organized an advisory committee that came up with awards that were consistent with the legislation. Kendell put an outline together, sent it to Senator Hillyard and told him about their plans to work in accordance to the proposed legislation. Kendell’s outline had signing bonuses, scholarship money for students who want to go back to school and get re-certified and also a proposition to recognize excellence. This was to keep the best people for the job. Hillyard liked the general outline and Kendell took it out to the superintendents, he asked them what they thought; it was a mixed review. They were very keen on the advancement awards 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 resented the idea that math and science would get more attention than English, Spanish or Language Arts. Nevertheless, the advisory committee proceeded with the advancement awards and the excellence awards, although there was only enough money to do the excellence awards twice. There were two cohorts of teachers that got the excellence awards. The idea was to give them a bonus for what they were at the time, if they had a person with a master’s degree in biology and was considered to be an exemplary teacher they would do what they could to keep that person in that position. Giving them $10,000 over 4 years was a nice incentive for them to stay and do what they were doing. Even though the excellence awards had mixed reviews they were implemented and a lot of teachers applied for them. Those teachers had an opportunity to stay doing what they really wanted to do. The advancement awards had a lot of appeal (Bill Aims to Attract Teachers). It was in the interest of both the teachers and the school districts to give the teachers better preparation. This was a way to pay for their tuition and fees and books, and in some cases it paid for their transportation. If there was a teacher in Panguitch and he wanted to get an endorsement in math but had to travel to Cedar City to get it he would be given a stipend to travel and go to school. Sometimes their living costs were taken care of if they had to stay overnight (or hazard pay to go on that highway from Panguitch to Cedar City) (Teachers will Be Better Trained in Technology to Fit New Plan, Leavitt’s Plan Will Put Technology In Schools, But Are Teachers Ready…). The signing bonuses did not have a lot of appeal to superintendents in the school districts; they thought it was a bit divisive. They were much more focused on equal treatment for all of their teachers. Some superintendents felt short changed because they didn’t need a math teacher in their district but a band teacher or something else. Many superintendents were not happy that so much money was put into this program. Nevertheless, 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 Utah’s economy. There was enough concern about this initiative that after the first year of implementation some legislators wanted to change the direction and purpose of the program. They felt that they had needs in their school districts that didn’t happen to be math and science and wanted the money for another purpose. The response was that it was a math and science initiative, so the money was to go towards that. The only one that really prevailed over time was special education. Marta Dilree from Davis County believed it was imperative to change the law. She believed that the demand for special education teachers was so great that the law needed to be changed to allow special education teachers to receive advancement awards. The only problem with special education teachers receiving advancement awards was that it all had to come out of the same fund.
The legislature didn’t decide that since it was a big demand, to put together another 2 or 3 million dollars for special education teachers, they said the money would remain fixed but that it was then able to go to special education, math, science, and related disciplines. And as a result, special education now gets a majority of the awards. Due to most of the money being used for special education, as a science and math initiative, the fund has been depleted. As of 2009 the need is the same, if not greater, many districts are still reporting their inability to get math and science teachers; there’s considerable turnover with math and science teachers because the education system 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 fix the problem has been depleted over time (Utahns Must Not Let Economics Dictate Higher Education Goals). There is an initiative at the University of Utah called the Math Enterprise which is trying to get more people to go into mathematics (Center for Science and Mathematics Education https://csme.utah.edu/about-csme/csme-mission-history/). 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 was not adequate to meet the demand.  In order to produce a new generation of scientists and mathematicians, it doesn’t start in college; it normally starts in the earlier grades. A lot of kids have a great interest in science in the elementary grades. Children would just as soon do experiments on the salamanders that they catch as do an art project. By the time they get into junior high school, math and science classes start to lose students and that trend continues into high school.

The range of possibilities for improvement is enormous. The bottom line is that Utah has far too few students who choose to study and pursue math and science programs. Teaching will be more attractive over time because much of the new money coming through the legislature has gone into teaching.  For the several years leading up to 2009 teachers have gotten anywhere from 3 to 6 % salary increases, and then at least in two of those years, they received one-time bonuses. Teacher’s salaries most likely are never going to be quite like private sector engineering jobs but a lot of people find teaching a very satisfactory work, even gratifying work.  If a person can get a salary that she thinks provides her with a good middle class lifestyle, Utah will be able to keep people in teaching. Utah education will most likely never get in the upper reaches of salaries but if Utah 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 range a lot of people would agree to teach given the benefits and the lack of risk. A lot of people in Utah 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 would probably do it. The challenge is still that it’s framed in the same kind of way; it is still driven in part by market constraints, framed by inadequate preparation, 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 it’s generally because the subject isn’t presented very well, though it’s inherently fascinating.

When students realize what they could do for careers with that math and science background it really turns on a light, they just don’t see it yet. Salt Lake Community College and the Granite School District sponsored a science symposium for young women where 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 tissue and using it for burn patients and people who were severely injured; a lot of people have no idea how to get into that kind of business. The schools don’t show people a window of what a scientist does and what engineers do but a lot of it is fascinating work. From the Leavitt administration’s perspective the engineering initiative was a really successful program. All of the college deans and the business community would say this is one of the really good things that the state legislature and Governor Leavitt did (Higher Education ‘Better Today,’ Leavitt Says). The Public Education Job Enhancement Program initially had a lot of support but it has certainly changed direction. It is not a science, engineering or math program anymore; it is largely driven by the needs of special education.  It was successful but it needs to get reinvigorated. Though successful the early college high schools, the engineering initiatives and the job enhancement program have had various degrees of success. The early college high schools are going to continue but to be successful they need better support as any new idea would. 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 because it got changed over time.  Special education was having a hard time recruiting people but at the same time it doesn’t diminish the demand for people in math and science. An outgrowth of the early college high schools is Huntsman’s idea to create 5 USTAR [Utah Science Technology and Research initiative at the University of Utah] high schools.  One of them was 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 in order to cultivate students so they can go on to be engineers, scientists, mathematicians and so forth. The origins of this happen to be the Dave Sperry study on teacher supply and demand (Luring Teachers- Utah Working To Train And Keep Quality Teachers https://www.deseret.com/2006/6/13/19958292/luring-teachers-151-utah-working-to-train-and-keep-quality-educators). There was a proposal in there for schools to move to an 11-month schedule which would give teachers a full time salary instead of a 9 month salary; they would go from 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; this is part of the Leavitt legacy.

Michael O. Leavitt Center for Politics and Public Service