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Applied-technology data puzzle panel

Stephens says that ‘both sides are trying to lobby us’

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Apparently contradictory information about what public education and higher education are doing for applied technology programs is starting to frustrate Utah House Speaker Marty Stephens.

Stephens on Thursday joked about seemingly conflicting data as being "productive" during a two-hour meeting of the legislative applied technology education task force, of which he is co-chairman.

But outside the meeting, the Farr West Republican said the task force might consider finding someone else to gather data if knots aren't worked out.

"There is a frustration. Both sides are trying to lobby us" for control of applied technology education (ATE) instead of offering the big picture, Stephens said. "We may have to go around the State Office of Education and Regents and have our staff get the research and information from now on . . . (but) let's see how things go."

The State Office of Education offers programs in high schools and has five applied technology centers (ATCs) and two additional service regions for teenagers and adults. The Utah System of Higher Education offers applied technology courses, certificate and degree programs through community colleges to high school students and adults.

But lawmakers question whether dual management has resulted in confusion and inefficiencies. The task force is studying whether one camp should take control of applied technology education or if the current system should remain intact.

The State Board of Regents already voted that it should control the system. Public education leaders are not willing to let go so easily.

"The proposal heard earlier from the Regents . . . would have the effect of cutting this system in half," State Board of Education member Linnea Barney told the task force. "It would rip our guts out."

Thursday, Rob Brems, associate state superintendent of applied technology education services, pitched his ideas.

The state school board could govern teens and adults taking ATE courses and not seeking college credit. Regents could govern folks taking ATE classes for credit, including high school students taking concurrent enrollment classes. And students who complete programs should be able to receive college credit to boost efficiency by not making students cover the same material twice.

But Brems' data did not seem to jibe with higher education's.

Brems said high school students are being shoved out of programs offered at colleges, which let students who have earned credits register first.

But Snow College President Gerald Day said that Snow College South, formerly an ATC, is enrolling high school students from all over the state.

Brems said public education is committed to ATE as an alternative path to job training outside traditional college degrees whereas ATE students in colleges usually end up with degrees.

ATCs also report steady growth in students taking courses not for college credit — estimated to have jumped from about 55,000 to 70,000 students since 1996 — whereas higher education's growth in the same enrollments is flat around 48,500, Brems said.

But Gary Wixom, assistant commissioner for applied technology education for the Utah System of Higher Education, reported college ATE enrollments have leaped 27 percent since 1991 whereas academic enrollments increased by 23 percent in the same time period. The number includes credit and non-credit ATE students, whereas Brems notes his numbers show non-credit only.

Still, the numbers appeared to conflict.

"I need something that shows all the data so I know what's really going on," Stephens said.

"We're going to get this resolved (even) if we're going to have to go through someone we can trust for unbiased information."

E-mail: toomer@desnews.com