By: David Jones Issue: Resource Management Section: Academia
How the Metropolitan Area’s Economic Centers are Undergoing Profound Changes
Salt Lake Community College is faced with providing the educational and training needs called for by many—especially the significant population increase in the southern Salt Lake Valley. Given the recent goal of Utah’s Governor Gary Herbert and local education partnership group, Prosperity2020, to create a state workforce that will have two-thirds of its population with a post-secondary degree or credential by 2020, providing this training is a weighty responsibility.
The total population of Utah is 2.9 million. Salt Lake City is the largest city in the state, with a metropolitan area hovering near 200,000 people, but the entire Valley hosts as many as 1.2 million residents.
Salt Lake Community College is Utah’s only comprehensive community college and is responsible for meeting the education and training needs for the residents. Those who have seen the Broadway smash hit “The Book of Mormon” might have a sense that Utah is demographically different from the rest of the United States. And it is.
In 2010, Utah’s population saw a net increase—as it has every year since 1990. The state’s population growth of 29.6 percent in 2010 more than doubled the U.S.’s 13.2 percent increase. Much of this increase—88 percent to be exact—is attributable to a high birth rate. But many people are relocating to Utah as well, even though in-migration was only 12 percent of Utah’s total population increase. In fact, 2010 marked the 15th consecutive year that the state saw more people move into the state than move out of it.
Fortunately, Utah does have some characteristics that help the college provide the training people need, and that makes a college education a realistic goal for the state’s residents. Utah, for example, has the nation’s highest literacy rate and fourth highest percentage of high school graduates. It lags behind, however, in percentage of college graduates with only the 11th highest percentage in the country. And more of those people need a college education than elsewhere in the U.S., as Utah's median age in 2011 is 27 years, well below the national figure of 35.
Lately, more and more of Utah residents are located south of where they once lived, as the southern end of the Salt Lake Valley is growing at a remarkable rate. The population of West Jordan city alone increased by 125,000 residents between 2000 and 2010; Herriman City saw an increase of more than 1,200 percent during that period. While the rate of these two cities’ growth is unusual, their neighboring cities south of Salt Lake City are also experiencing robust growth.
Providing an education for all of these newcomers is challenging, particularly given that Utah, like many states, has seen significant budget cuts in public and higher education. This, coupled with several consecutive years of record enrollment increases at SLCC, is creating huge funding issues.
Administrators and industry leaders clearly recognized that providing training that the burgeoning population south of Utah’s capital needs will require both facilities and programs to suit the area’s changing needs.
As an institution with an open-door policy, Salt Lake Community College can’t simply deal with the region’s sizeable population increase by capping enrollment or by implementing more selective admissions policies. Instead, the college, already the largest institution of higher education in Utah, with 13 locations and more than 60,000 students annually, recently partnered with a major land developer to obtain 90 acres in Herriman City with plans to expand into the southern part of the valley.
Both human and energy resources are the key to the decision by the college to move south. By building new facilities and putting energy programs in that part of the valley, the college is able to maximize both the state’s human capital and naturally abundant energy stores.
Because the location is in a natural wind corridor, the college and the developer—which donated 30 of the total 90 acres—accepted the challenge of meeting the area’s twin needs to produce education and energy opportunities. To that end, the college plans to build its full array of energy programs at the new site. Already a national educational leader in the fields of energy management and green technologies, the college has established a Green Academy that will ultimately be moved to the Herriman campus. The Green Academy is an academic entity that houses numerous programs in alternative and renewable energy fields. Courses in these programs provide students with the knowledge and skills to prepare them for emerging opportunities in green technologies.
The new Herriman Campus and the Green Academy will offer students access to several programs in alternative and renewable energy fields, such as electric power technology, green retrofitting, lineman apprenticeship, smart grid technology, solar photovoltaic systems, and a compressed natural gas (CNG) certification program. As such, the college has committed not only to providing access to the highest quality education throughout the Salt Lake Valley but also to preparing Utah’s workforce for a future in renewable energy technologies and energy conservation.
This commitment and effort have been aided by a $3.7 million U.S. Department of Energy grant that makes the college the training site for the entire Mountain West Region. Through this program, the college will be the institution that educates the solar installer trainers in most of the Western U.S.
SLCC is the only community college to be a part of this grant and is one of only nine institutions selected to participate. Along with the Rocky Mountain Solar Training Consortium, Solar Energy International, and the Utah Solar Energy Association, the college will assist 11 states in adopting and using solar electrical technologies and in developing or improving existing photovoltaic or solar heating and cooling installation courses.
The college will assist state directors of career and technical education and other institutions in making sure solar installation training in the region is coordinated at the college level and will make sure high school students receive training opportunities that will enable them to take full advantage of the post-secondary opportunities that will become increasingly available because of this grant program.
“The training we will be able to provide as a result of this grant is tremendous,” said Karen Gunn, dean of SLCC’s School of Professional and Economic Development. “Of course, all of our involvement with new and emerging alternative energy technologies is exciting. But our role in this consortium is especially rewarding because we’re able to take the absolute best practices in the industry and ensure that enterprising professionals who live and work anywhere in the region can have access to and benefit from them. In this way, we are truly capitalizing on the promise of these clean energy technologies.”
Another federal grant, this one a $4.6 million State Energy Sector Partnership grant, allows the college to lead Utah’s Energy Cluster Accelerator Partnership efforts. Through these efforts, SLCC is promoting environmental sustainability and teaching the next generation of green champions—those who will in turn help build more sustainable communities. The college is the lead institution of the State Energy Sector Partnership that brings together educational institutions and state government along with the private sector to develop new jobs in energy fields. As lead institution in this partnership, the college has been integral in creating four regional energy academies that teach workers skills in industries that promote energy efficiency or the development of renewable-energy resources.
The State Core Energy Curriculum is comprised of the following regional academies: green construction, energy management and efficiency, renewable energy and transmission, and alternative fuels. These core areas were decided on as part of an overall statewide approach that meshes with with the Utah Governor's Office of Economic Development’s efforts to promote cluster accelerator projects. The projects capitalize on the state's strong points that begin with energy development and include numerous other resources such as outdoor recreation industries. “This program is obviously a great benefit to the State of Utah and to students as well, especially those who want to get into energy industries,” said Layne Ashton, director of the State Energy Sector Partnership. “Students are able to begin their study in an array of energy programs, and this grant provides funding that covers their total expenses for their programs of study, from tuition to books and supplies. Perhaps best of all, students can complete the training so quickly—those in the program finish their study in less than a year and are completely job-ready at that time.” Funding by the U.S. Department of Labor through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 saw $190 million be appropriated to green jobs training grants nationwide and will provide training to more than 1,400 people in Utah alone. "Our goal in this partnership is to get people trained for good-paying jobs that will last a long time," said Tim Sheehan, SLCC vice president of Institutional Advancement.
Training programs in these areas were designed specifically with industry needs in mind. “We certainly looked closely at data from various employment projections in creating and designing the curriculum for these programs,” Layne Ashton said. “We knew to be successful, we’d need to carefully consider and fully understand where the demand is and what the industry needs now and in the future. We engaged in discussions with our private-sector partners every step of the way to ensure we had that understanding.”
As an institution accustomed to accommodating the vagaries of busy students’ hectic schedules, the college has tailored numerous features in these programs to allow people to get the training they’re looking for in ways they can use.
Beyond the plan to physically relocate to the southern part of the Salt Lake Valley, the college also makes many courses available online. Students can also finish training in a core area and then return to school to complete a more specialized training certificate in areas such as natural gas vehicle conversion or solar voltaic installation. As a result of these efforts, Utah—already recognized as being one of the country’s most business-friendly states—will be well-positioned to make the fullest possible use of the resources at its disposal. “The great thing about what both of these grants allow us to do is that we can directly target the specific needs that local communities have and can adapt to those needs as circumstances and economies change,” said Sheehan. “These grants, coupled with our long-standing commitment to developing training programs in alternative energy fields will allow Salt Lake Community College to play such a vital role in stimulating the local and regional economy. Our new Herriman Campus will be a big part of that.”
Salt Lake Community College has recognized how the region is growing and how the business climate is changing. It is moving aggressively to provide the instructional and physical resources that Utah needs to make the best use of its resources. And, the college will be recognized for progress in sustainability with the Green Business award in November 2011 from Utah Business.