The business community, as the ultimate consumer of Utah’s workforce, saw an opportunity to become more engaged in advancing educational excellence and helping solve a challenge that was central to the state’s future.
In 2009, Utah business leaders got a sobering report on Utah education from a trusted educational advisor. They learned about the lack of a cohesive education plan. Tradition-bound practices, troubling test scores, low graduation rates, devoted teachers with low
morale, and increasing racial and ethnic diversity, combined to inspire a call to action.
Recognizing a critical need, the business community organized Prosperity 2020, a statewide, research-driven and collaborative movement to improve education outcomes and drive economic development. “We had to change the dialogue in Utah from a discussion on the cost of education to a focus on investing in education.
Poor educational outcomes are economic warning signs. The combination of skilled labor shortages, disappointing educational outcomes and rapid growth in ethnic populations requires action,” said former Prosperity 2020 Chairman Mark Bouchard.
The effort became the largest business-led movement ever assembled in Utah with the goal to advance educational investment and innovation.
“Never before in the history of Utah has the business community been as supportive of education as we are today,” said Beattie. “Prosperity 2020 was the vehicle for that support, to work collaboratively to ensure the largest population of young people in the country will be deployed as the best educated work force, propelling Utah to enduring prosperity.”
Prosperity 2020 is a unique partnership between the private sector, public education and higher education, determined to create the best-educated workforce in the country. The project’s aim is to improve Utah’s educational outcomes by reaching several ambitious goals:
- 66% of Utah adults will have postsecondary certificates or degrees. In 2013, 43% meet this goal.
- 90% of third, sixth and eighth graders will be proficient in reading and mathematics. In 2013, about 80% reach this aim.
- The Greater Salt Lake area will rank in the top 10 metropolitan areas for science and technology jobs, and businesses. In 2013, it ranked in the top 30.
“Despite policy differences between educators and legislators, there is a goal that unites all sides, that is our kids,” said Utah Speaker of the House Greg Hughes. “We feel that as a Legislature, and so it’s valuable for us to have organizations like Prosperity 2020, broader than just those from the public education system, talking about how we’re all in this together.”
Prosperity 2020’s vision aligned with the stakeholders, and in 2013, the Utah State Legislature and the Gov. Gary Herbert followed suit and adopted these goals.
“Leaders of the movement had a keen interest in the success of others. Education partners seemed to feel this and responded with warmth,” said Gochnour. “This kind of leadership brought a refreshing dynamic to a worn-out conversation and energized people to work together in new ways.” This trust and success led to legislative leadership asking the business community to develop a long-range plan for education.
In 2014, the business community responded with Prosperity Through Education: An Innovation, Accountability and Investment Plan for Utah’s Future. This long-term strategic plan, the first of its kind in Utah, served as a catalyst for the Governor, State Board of Education and Legislature to develop educational agendas that largely mirrored the strategies of the business community’s plan.
“Legislatures are reactive by nature,” said Senate President Wayne Niederhauser. “It was critical to have a plan as a starting point to bring the groups together and do so here in the Legislature, to get the Legislature on board so we can create a long- term policy for education and then align the bills, the discussions we have, toward that target. The business community was critical at filling this void.”
The business community used this momentum to implement proven policies to better education and pursue significant funding increases to both public and higher education. Real progress was achieved towards the goals of Prosperity 2020. Through the vision, business, teaching and community groups and elected officials began to work collaboratively on what needs to be accomplished to further improve educational outcomes and create a prosperous future for Utah’s economy.
“You know the business community is used to getting results, and you don’t get results unless you have a plan,” said Beattie. “We said ‘where are we at, where do we need to be and how will we get there’ and once you know the answer to all those questions, you move the dial.”