Education is always in the spotlight this time of year, as students from 5 to 74 — yes, we have a 74-year-old enrolled at Utah Valley University this fall — head back to the classroom. I am always excited to welcome the thousands of bright, eager and curious individuals back to campus each year.

As a relatively new Utahn, I have been impressed with the state’s enduring commitment to education — from kindergarten through graduate school and every step along the way. I say that because I have seen firsthand, time and time again, the positive, transformative power of education.

UVU’s President Astrid Tuminez is a perfect example. She and her family lived in the slums of Iloilo in the Philippines with no prospects for education. However, thanks to a group of compassionate and service-minded Catholic nuns, she was allowed to enroll in school, and the experience dramatically transformed her life. Through hard work, she earned a doctorate from MIT, worked as an executive for a large global tech company, served as vice dean of research at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore and now leads Utah’s largest university. 

Do not take my word for it, though. Consider the U.S. News & World Report, which ranked Utah in the top 10 states nationally for education, and No. 6 for higher education. Or WalletHub, which said our state is second only to New York in terms of opportunities and work environment for teachers. A Forbes ranking puts Utah in the top five states for college affordability. Utahns should be proud of the educational system they have created. 

These results are proof of hard work and a history of dedication that traces all the way back to the pioneers, who quickly organized a system of small schoolhouses and created the University of Utah in 1850 — then called the University of Deseret — just three years after arriving in the Salt Lake Valley.

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Late last year, a survey by Envision Utah showed that education was Utahns’ top priority among many current issues. Proof of this is that more Utahns attend college than the national average — 26% compared to 23%. Higher education in Utah is also funded well above the U.S. average.

We understand the value of education in Utah. We know that our children will have higher incomes and more opportunities if they pursue more education. Communities are healthier, have lower crime rates and enjoy greater civic involvement because of higher levels of education. The strength of our education system is one of the reasons new residents are flocking to the state and employers come here to set up shop.

I believe deeply in the power of education. Schools and universities are amazing places that can ignite the imagination and open new doors. 

I want to thank Utah’s leaders and our communities for their commitment to maintaining an education system that stands out nationally, provides a brighter future for our children, and makes dreams a reality.

Dr. F. Wayne Vaught is the provost and vice president of academic affairs at Utah Valley University.