Commentary: University of Utah offers great educational value

To paraphrase Warren Buffet, price is how much you pay; value is what you get for your money.

(Steve Griffin | Tribune File Photo) The afternoon sun shines on the front of the Park Building and the statue of John Rocky Park, who was the president of the University of Utah from 1869 - 1892, Tuesday, November 29, 2011 on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City.

There is very good news for Utahns focused on value in higher education. In a just-published study by U.S. News and World Report, in partnership with McKinsey & Company, Utah was rated as the second-best state in the nation for higher education.

Measures that contributed to this rating align with what’s important to students and families: tuition costs, graduation rates, graduates’ loan debt and residents’ educational attainment.

As the state’s flagship university, the University of Utah honors the responsibility that designation entails when ensuring value remains central to our institutional principles. And there is clear evidence that this is the case.

The U.’s undergraduate base tuition is the lowest among Pac-12 and Big-10 peers. The U. has maintained this affordability while graduation rates have increased, average student loan debt remains modest and the quality of educational experiences has dramatically accelerated.

The national recognition is timely as spring is college decision-making season. Here at the U., every day at 10 a.m. and 1:30 p.m., groups of high school students and family members walk the campus, touring classrooms and residence halls as they talk with student ambassadors and campus leaders about what we have to offer.

Selecting a college can be daunting. “What should I consider in choosing a college?” “Why does college cost so much?” and “How will a degree from this institution help me get a job after college?” are questions many students — and their parents — ask.

Such questions reflect valid concerns, particularly for first-generation college students. Even for students who have the help of a college-experienced guide, it is not straightforward to sort through what is truly relevant in college marketing materials and compelling campus tours.

That is why value, an often-overlooked factor, deserves thoughtful consideration. Value is the intersection of cost and quality, with quality including the breadth and depth of available educational experiences, the talent of faculty and staff and a range of tangible outcomes, specifically the percentage of students who stay at the institution, earn a degree and secure employment or successfully continue to professional studies.

Value should not be confused with price. To paraphrase Warren Buffet, price is how much you pay; value is what you get for your money.

We believe we can continue to do better, with a clear focus on value, in offering quality and quantifiable outcomes while responsibly managing costs. As we fulfill our compact with citizens of our state, we honor our role as both the University of Utah and the University for Utah.

We believe this commitment matters, for the students and families making college decisions and for the collective good of Utah. For all those making this decision in coming weeks, one point is clear: Looking in your own backyard — or in our backyard, for out-of-state students — is a wise move. When it comes to a good value in higher education, the U. has much to offer.

Ruth Watkins in the Park Building at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City on Monday, Jan. 22, 2018. Watkins will succeed David Pershing this Spring as president of The University of Utah. (Al Hartmann/The Salt Lake Tribune via AP)

Ruth V. Watkins is the president-designate at the University of Utah. She will assume office Monday.

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