Fans of the University of Utah’s football team have a lot to be excited for on the field, and even more to cheer for off the field.
The U. recently made a commitment to their low-income students by establishing a scholarship fund to attend school for free. It is a sign that higher education institutions are finally recognizing the need to provide a quality education for all students. This announcement made me proud to have graduated from this institution.
While there is still much progress to be made in supporting these students at the university level, they should not be alone in this effort. Our Utah public education system needs to do a better job of preparing our students to succeed in college.
This is not a reflection of our teachers. Having worked with, and in, multiple school districts over the years, I can say there is no harder working group of people in the schools than teachers. However, they are not miracle workers (although some may seem so). Our teachers are amazing but can only do so much without the resources needed to truly see our students thrive. The policymakers in our state need to finally make an investment in our children.
We should want to see more students graduate from college. A person with a bachelor’s degree will make around $750,000 more over the course of their lifetime than a high school graduate. This is money that will not only contribute to the health and happiness of these individuals but could also boost economic growth in our state. In order to ensure the success of our students in college, we need to invest in them before they arrive.
The first year of college is critical to success, with a third of college dropouts leaving before their sophomore year. The transition from high school to college is paved with many barriers; the University of Utah has begun to address the difficulties associated with paying tuition. What they cannot address is the level of preparation for college-level work students receive in high school. We should believe that every student is capable of graduating college if they so choose and this needs to be reflected in our educational budget.
The amount we spend on our students in this state is embarrassing. We are dead last in the nation in per-pupil spending and have been for more than 30 years. This lack of funding contributes to our teacher shortage, overcrowding in schools and fewer opportunities. In some high schools I have worked with, the counselors are expected to work with 200 plus students over the course of the school year. It is inevitable that not every student will get the attention and preparation they deserve with that workload. This occurs in the classroom as well. How can our students get the individual attention needed for college prep in a classroom of 40 students with only one teacher?
With the Utah legislative session coming up in January, we need to begin to pressure our state policymakers to finally make our children’s education a priority. We have been fed false promises for too long. Institutes of higher education in this state are beginning to provide more opportunities for our youth to attend college. We need to ensure our students have the ability take full advantage.
Miguel Trujillo was born and raised in Utah, is a former school social worker and now a doctoral student at the University of Denver studying the disparities in our education system.