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The need for education is priority for USU president

Stan Albrecht
Stan Albrecht

Last year China produced more than 600,000 engineering graduates — it's a fact that's on the mind of Utah State University president Stan Albrecht.

And India turned out 350,000 engineering graduates last year to the United States' 70,000. Many of those graduates were international students, Albrecht said Tuesday at a gathering of the Salt Lake Rotary Club.

As the United States lags further behind other countries in areas like science, engineering and scholarly research, USU's role is becoming more clear to Albrecht.

"Our challenge is to train young people who will be able to compete effectively in this changing world," he said.

But some changes in education taking place in Utah are cause for concern, according to Albrecht.

For example, whites are three times more likely to attend college than minority students in a state Albrecht noted is rapidly becoming more diverse. And overall, regardless of race, figures show fewer students in Utah are attending college.

One solution, Albrecht said, is for higher education to work more closely with public education.

"It is essential that this partnership work better than it does," he said. "We must get to students earlier."

The impact of producing more college-educated adults, Albrecht added, is that they'll earn more, have health benefits and will be more likely to vote. And fewer people would need government assistance.

Although one undercurrent of Albrecht's speech was that state government needs to invest more in public and higher education, he noted that only one of seven major capital projects under way on USU's campus is being funded with public money.

As tuition here and in other states continues to rise — as the amount of state funding falls — many public institutions seem to be reflecting private models in terms of financing, according to Albrecht. The availability of need-based aid here, he noted, is among the worst in the country.

It's why Albrecht talked Tuesday about "access and excellence" as a theme linked to USU's mission as the "people's university."

USU has a presence, he said, in all of Utah's 29 counties and the goal is to continue expanding the school's role in this state. USU's Innovation Campus, he added, is poised to grow from 38 acres to 150 acres — it's a place where research and intellectual property will increasingly turn into new businesses and products.

Borrowing from the words of hockey great Wayne Gretzky, Albrecht said USU and higher education in Utah need to aim where the puck is going to be, not where it was.