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JOB FUTURE IS RAISING THE STATUS OF APPLIED TECHNOLOGY CENTERS

Applied technology education is coming into its own in Utah.

After years of being the poor stepchild in the education family, it is gaining legitimacy and even stature - i.e., it is beginning to attract a lot of money that gives it some luster in the eyes of both public and higher education.Fact is, the majority of Utah's jobs in the foreseeable future will be in areas that require technical training. That elevates the role of the applied technology centers, the community colleges and other programs that provide the kind of training that leads to such jobs.

The higher profile, however, has put applied technology education (ATE - you knew there would be an acronym) in the middle of a tug of war between higher and public education. Who is to govern an educational activity that has no clear delineation between the two levels of education - in fact one that liberally slithers back and forth between the two?

A task force that was charged last spring with analyzing the situation and proposing solutions has come up with a proposal that may provide a format for governance.

The proposal is to create an advisory committee to the existing Liaison Committee. The Liaison Committee has statutory authority and consists of an equal number of high-ranking education officials from both public and higher education - including the state superintendent of public instruction and the commissioner for higher education. It provides a forum for discussion of issues that affect both levels of education.

The suggested ATE advisory committee would have broad leeway to look at budgets, make recommendations for programs and hammer out agreements on such sticky items as college credit for courses undertaken at the area technology centers, transfer of those credits and interrelationships among the many programs that provide ATE training.

The advisory group would make its recommendations to the full Liaison Committee. The representatives for public and higher education would then take the recommendations back to the State Board of Education and the State Board of Regents for a final decision.

And therein lies the rub, as Shakespeare would say. At that juncture, they are back precisely where they are now. The two boards don't always agree, by any means, on issues related to ATE, recommendations notwithstanding.

(I still remember the skirmish over the Salt Lake Skills Center when the State Board was adamant about retaining control, even though the program had been intimately allied with Salt Lake Community College for some time. Despite the recommendations of a group with representation from both camps that governance of the center be turned over to higher education, State Board members were vocally reluctant to let go.)

The insertion now of another advisory committee of the same type between the two boards would only remove by one step the detailed debate on ATE issues.

That isn't all bad, but unless the two boards are actually willing to give and take a little on sensitive ATE issues, the question of governance will not be resolved.

Joint custody can be tough. But the alternative is to continue to let the important ATE member of the family flounder around without adequate guidance. The upcoming debate on the matter should be thorough and thoughtful.