Utah has one of the highest rates of “some college, no degree” in the country: 27% of adult Utahns fall into this category (“Improving Graduation Rates”), and three of the nation’s top ten “some college, no degree” metro areas are located in northern Utah (Wright).
In 2013, Governor Gary Hebert announced the “66by2020” plan. This plan, which has been endorsed by the state legislature and the Utah System of Higher Education (USHE), sets an ambitious goal to increase the percentage of adult Utahns with a postsecondary degree or certificate from 43% to 66% by the year 2020 (Wood). This goal gained the support of key education-related political action groups and philanthropic organizations in the state (“Prosperity through Education”).
The governor has framed the case for 66by2020 in terms of fostering economic growth, increasing tax revenue, reducing intergenerational poverty and welfare expenditures, reducing crime and incarceration rates, and improving volunteerism and K-12 student success by boosting parental education levels. To meet this goal, USHE estimates will need to award 336,950 degrees between 2010 and 2020—36,950 more than are predicted based on 2010 graduation rates (“Building Utah’s Future”). A variety of measures have been proposed and/or undertaken to close this gap over the next five years.
In partnership with the national nonprofit organization Complete College America, the USHE Board of Regents passed a college completion resolution in 2013 that outlined several system-wide initiatives intended to increase retention and graduation rates:
- Increase the
percentage of students taking 15 credit hours per semester (or 30 credits per
year) to reduce time to degree completion.
semester-by-semester degree completion maps to enable students to plan
efficient paths to degree completion.
- Increase the number
of students successfully completing math requirements by the end of their
first year, either through coursework or prior credit.
- Increase the number of reverse transfer and “stackable” credentials awarded, thereby increasing the total number of degrees awarded and making it easier for students to earn credentials incrementally.
USHE has charged each public postsecondary institution in Utah with setting three- and five-year goals related to these completion initiatives. USHE institutions are required to report on their progress toward these goals annually (“USHE Institutions”).
Drawing on a $1 million funding authorization from the Utah Legislature, in 2014 USHE invited applications for one-time Completion Grants of up to $40,000 to “support and scale” completion projects that have been successfully piloted at institutions (“USHE Completion Grants”).
In 2014, USHE was selected by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be part of the national Accelerate Strategic Student Success Planning project, which focuses on “exploring higher education transformation at a large scale and solving common issues encountered during implementation.” This project centers on the completion-related goals of 66by2020. Participation in the Gates project includes a $200,035 grant to fund project alignment, stakeholder engagement, and implementation planning (“USHE Receives Funding”).