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Opinion: College degrees are our best investments. They should be accessible to all.

Open your hearts and support efforts to help others with their challenges, even if you have it made.

(Chris Samuels | The Salt Lake Tribune) High school students attend a multicultural conference and college recruitment event at Salt Lake Community College in Taylorsville, Friday, Nov. 5, 2021.

Utah politicians’ current attack on policies which help people with diverse backgrounds and abilities must stop. We are better than this. We are a state which welcomes people from other parts of the country at a rate of 25,000 net new residents per year.

We are a state with a booming economy, strong schools and good prospects. We are a state established by a group of religious refugees from a minority religion who needed a safe place to live. The Kem Gardner Institute notes that nearly one in four Utahns is a racial or ethnic minority.

What are the legislators and governor afraid of in these efforts to serve all Utahns? College degrees are the best investment we can make in people — all people.

Utah taxpayers have built a higher education system that offers all students, young and old, urban and rural, from all backgrounds, a chance to participate in society, work in a vibrant economy and achieve economic independence. As with every education system since America started public education, Utah’s system offers help to people who need it. We want everyone to succeed because their success lifts us as a state.

It makes no sense to say to a person, “You can’t get the help you need from a counselor or a teacher because you are different from the profile of a Utah state legislator.” Many of the Greatest Generation in this country received free college through the GI bill.

That is America to me. We provide special parking places close to the front door so people with different abilities than me can still go to the store on their own. Sure, I might like to park closer sometimes, but I am capable of seeing that it benefits me when everyone can shop at the grocery store.

Higher education is an even more powerful economic opportunity than the grocery store. Do not misrepresent the efforts to help people from diverse backgrounds. If you are scared by the acronym “DEI,” look behind it and put a face on it. These efforts are done by amazing community groups — like Latinos in Action or Expect the Great — and wise insightful people on campuses who can match people with the tutors and resources they need. I have personally worked with these campus groups, and I know their fair-minded approach.

All of us struggled at one time as individual students. College athletes are given outstanding support to succeed in their studies. This does not take away from the rest of the students. The pie expands as fast as the economic opportunities we create. We are not a mean-spirited, fearful group of policymakers; we see the future and Utah needs an educated, trained workforce from all backgrounds. Gov. Spencer Cox’s own One Utah Roadmap listed equality and opportunity as one of his six major priorities.

Open your hearts and support efforts to help others with their challenges, even if you have it made. It will add to the richness of your experience to see college through someone else’s eyes.

Utahns should insist that the legislators hear from us — college is for everyone and we want a system that reflects our humanity of loving our neighbors as ourselves.

Lisa-Michele Church

Lisa-Michele Church is an attorney in Salt Lake City and served as chair of the Utah Board of Higher Education (formerly the Board of Regents) from 2022-2023. She served on the same board as a board member from 2019-2022 and as a member of the Dixie State College Board of Trustees (now Utah Tech University) from 1993-2001.

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