Education in Utah
According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), almost 90 colleges, universities and other institutions of higher education call the Beehive State home. These include:
- 7 public four-year universities
- 9 public two-year community and technical colleges
- 11 private nonprofit two- and four-year colleges
- 28 private for-profit two- and four-year colleges
- 34 private schools, including seminary colleges and occupational schools
With a population of only 2.9 million according to recent census data, Utah is one of the 10 least-densely populated states in the U.S. The one exception is the Salt Lake City metropolitan area, where nearly half the state’s residents live. However, in 2013 the U.S. Census Bureau estimated that Utah had the second fastest-growing population of any state. Utah also has one of the youngest populations in the country, and, according to a Gallup poll, “easily leads the nation in terms of its performance across 13 forward-looking metrics that might determine which states will be the best places to live in the future.”
Utah is primarily known for outdoor recreation and a substantial Mormon population. When the above factors are taken into consideration, however, the state emerges as a surprisingly strong educational contender. Individuals interested in pursuing higher education may do well to give Utah a second look, whether they are interested in traditional colleges and universities or vocational programs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that, of Utah’s 2.9 million residents, 1.2 million were of “working age,” which is defined as adults between the ages of 25 and 64. According to the Lumina Foundation, approximately 41.4 percent of working-age Utah residents hold a two- or four-year degree, which is more than the national average of 39.4 percent. With a workforce so young and educated, a college degree or professional certificate may be required in order for an individual to be competitive in Utah’s workforce. In 2011-2012, over 57,000 students completed degrees or other awards in Utah at Title IX institutions. This is approximately 1.3 percent of the total in the nation.
More specifically, according to a 2014 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) report, federal financial aid-eligible colleges and universities in Utah granted 59,974 degrees and certificates to 57,108 graduating students in 2011-12. Among those students, 77 percent earned their degrees at four-year institutions and 19 percent earned two-year degrees. The remaining four percent, a total of 1,617 graduates, earned certificates from less-than-two-year institutions.
Here are some total undergraduate student enrollment numbers collected from the major public universities in Utah, according to NCES College Naviagor, current as of Fall 2014:
- University of Utah: 31,515
- Utah State University: 27,662
- Utah Valley University: 31,332
- Salt Lake Community Colleges: 29,537
The most up-to-date data provided by the Utah System of Higher Education indicate that the state had more than 167,000 students enrolled in public colleges and universities in the 2014 academic year. According to the NCES, an additional 87,000 were enrolled at private institutions (both nonprofit and for-profit) at the undergraduate level. There were also approximately 28,000 students in graduate programs in Utah. Thus, the total number of postsecondary students in Utah exceeds 282,000. Of undergraduate students, 53 percent were enrolled full time with the remainder were enrolled part-time.
Online education in Utah
The last ten years have seen a surge in online education. When this trend was just emerging, online classes were not considered as reputable as the traditional, face-to-face model for teaching. Like any new technology, however, subsequent “generations” of the technology have improved considerably compared to the “beta” version. As the quality of the content has increased, delivery methods themselves have also gotten better. Innovations such as massive open online courses (MOOCs) have allowed colleges and universities to scale up, and have now become commonplace. Course content can be delivered online not only easily, but inexpensively. This means that an online education may be more fiscally prudent for students than a traditional college degree.
Even brick-and-mortar colleges and universities in Utah offer hybrid and fully online courses, whether for individual courses or for entire programs and degrees. This has had the happy side effect of enabling students to achieve their educational goals even if they live far away from the particular college, university or vocational school in Utah that they would like to attend. Even students who live outside Utah may choose to attend schools in the Beehive State, if they determine an institution there is the best fit for their educational goals.
Numerous Utah colleges and universities that offer online programs have been recognized by national ranking agencies. Here are a few Utah colleges and universities that offer online programs, alongside their national rank as calculated by US News & World Report:
- Southern Utah University
- Best Online Graduate Business Programs (Excluding MBA) — No. 81
- Regional Universities (West) — No. 58
- Top Public Schools — No. 16
- University of Utah
- Best Online Graduate Education Programs — No. 94
- National Universities — No. 129
- Top Public Schools — No. 63
- Utah State University
- Best Online Bachelor’s Programs — No. 13
- Best Online Graduate Education Programs — No. 13
- Westminster College
- Regional Universities (West) — No. 20
- Best Value Schools — No. 9
By 2008, almost 25 percent of all postsecondary students in the U.S. were taking online courses. That trend has accelerated, and by 2012 over 7.1 million postsecondary students nationally were taking at least one online course. In colleges in Utah, over 62,000 students were enrolled exclusively in distance education courses. An additional 34,000 were enrolled in at least one distance education course. That’s approximately 34 percent of all post-secondary students in the state at the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Top jobs and careers in Utah
Here’s a table of some of the top careers in Utah, along with information about each and some degrees that can help job candidates in each field stand out from the crowd:
|Occupation||Top regions||Why it’s hot||Necessary skills||Relevant degrees|
|Bookkeeping, accounting and auditing clerks||Salt Lake City||The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicates that this occupational category pays an annual median wage of $33,890 in Utah in 2014.||Active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, critical thinking, mathematics||For many such positions only a high school diploma and on-the-job training are required. However, Individuals wishing to become more competitive for bookkeeping positions may want to become certified in bookkeeping and the software they will use on the job. Post-secondary coursework or a bachelor’s degree in accounting may also be useful, especially for individuals interested in advancing to positions as accountants or auditors.|
|Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products||Salt Lake City||According to the BLS, this occupational category has an annual median wage of $56,620 in Utah in 2014.||Active listening, speaking, persuasion, social perceptiveness, critical thinking||According to the BLS, a degree in a field related to the product sold, such as chemistry, biology, or engineering, is often required. For nontechnical products, degrees in marketing, economics, or communication may make one more competitive.|
|Elementary School Teachers, Except Special Education||Salt Lake City||According to the BLS, this occupational category had a median annual wage of $51,770 in Utah in 2014.||Instructing, speaking, learning strategies, active listening, active learning, monitoring, social perceptiveness, critical thinking, judgment and decision making, reading comprehension||According to the BLS, Kindergarten and elementary school teachers must have a bachelor’s degree as well as a state-issued certification or license. For higher grades, some states prefer or require a double major in elementary education as well as a content area such as math or science.|
|Management Analysts||Salt Lake City||In Utah, the 2014 median annual wage for management analysts was $72,220.||Active listening, reading comprehension, speaking, critical thinking, and complex problem solving||According to the BLS, Most management analysts have at least a bachelor’s degree. The Certified Management Consultant (CMC) designation and/or a master of business administration (MBA) may improve job prospects. For those with bachelor’s degrees, areas such as business, management, economics, political science and government, accounting, finance, marketing, psychology, computer and information science, and English are all common.|
|Accountants and auditors||Salt Lake City||According to the BLS, the 2014 median annual wage in this occupational category in Oklahoma is $62,320.||Critical thinking, reading comprehension, active listening, speaking, and active learning||Typically, accountants and auditors have a bachelor’s degree in accounting, business, or a related area. A master’s degree may be required for more advanced positions. Generally speaking, individuals in these positions are also expected to become certified public accountants (CPAs).|
Other job categories of note in Utah include office and administrative support, production, food preparation and service and transportation and material moving occupations.
Financial aid in Utah
In 2014-2015, tuition and fees costs in Utah averaged the following by institution type according to numbers from the College Board:
- Public two-year in-state institutions
- 2004-2005: $2,537
- 2014-2015: $3,449
- Public four-year in-state institutions
- 2004-2005: $4,118
- 2014-2015: $6,117
- Private nonprofit four-year institutions
- 2004-2005: $5,375
- 2014-2015: $6,462
While the public tuition rates are comparable to those in other states, the rate for private nonprofits in Utah is among the lowest in the country. Obviously, however, individual institution’s prices will vary, and out-of-state students pursuing an education in Utah will expect to pay more than residents. While students may not be able to directly control their college or university’s tuition, there are a variety of factors that can be controlled on an individual basis. Strategies individuals can employ to make their education more affordable include:
- Applying for in-state residency
- Living close to campus for a short commute, potentially biking to campus
- Taking some or all coursework online
- Buying books and other supplies used when possible
- Having roommates while in school, or living at home
- Working part-time or full-time while in school
Most students who enroll at colleges and universities in Utah will fill out the Federal Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) each year. The information recorded on the FAFSA is used by many different potential sources of state and federal student aid as well as to determine an individual student’s financial need and eligibility for programs of interests. In addition to the FAFSA, Utah has a variety of state-level financial aid programs. More information is available at the Higher Ed Utah website, but options include:
- Regents’ Scholarship
- New Century Scholarship
- Utah Educational Savings Plan
- The Western Interstate Commission for Higher Education (WICHE) Professional Student Exchange Program
- T.H. Bell Teaching Incentive Loan
Proof of in-state residency and other requirements may have to be met to verify eligibility for state financial aid programs. In 2013-2014, Federal Direct subsidized and un-subsidized loans were being offered at an interest rate of 3.86 percent. Private student loans may also be available at a variety of interest rates, depending on an individual’s credit rating. Currently, some private loans may offer lower interest rates than federal loans do, but this may not always be the case. Additionally, federal student loans typically have a wider variety of repayment options and other benefits that may be better than those offered by private lenders.
For example, federal loans have clear guidelines on eligibility for forbearance and deferral. Individuals with federal student loans may also be able to participate in Pay As You Earn (PAYE), a repayment program that caps monthly payments at a set percentage of one’s income and offers forgiveness on the balance after a set period of on-time payments. On the other hand, private lenders may or may not offer forbearance and deferral programs, and are not eligible for PAYE. Private lenders may, however, offer comparable benefits to federal loans, so it’s always important to check the fine print and ask questions about any terms or conditions that seem unclear.
Regardless of their ultimate career goals, prospective students should be careful to seek out a regionally accredited institution, particularly if they are seeking a traditional academic major. Accreditation is one of the primary ways in which the quality of an institution is judged. There are six regional accreditors in the United States. In Utah, the accreditation body is the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). In addition to regional accrediting bodies, some vocational and technical schools are nationally accredited instead. Some programs, whether technical, vocational, or academic, are accredited by the professional organization associated with the topic or content area being taught. Students should do the research to discover the types of accreditation that are expected for a particular degree or certification and seek a program that can not only teach the skills they want to gain, but has the accreditation that can make potential employers sit up and take notice.
Besides employer confidence, regional accreditation has other benefits. Firstly, credits from regionally accredited institutions are easier to transfer to other institutions. If students move to another city and online education isn’t offered by their original institution, or if a student wants to change his or her major to one not offered by the original college or the university being attended, being able to easily transfer credits to a new institution is important. No one wants to watch a year or more’s worth of credits go down the drain because a new college or university won’t accept a previous institution’s credits.
Secondly, the U.S. Department of Education requires that schools participating in federal student aid programs be accredited. State aid may also be dependent on a college or university’s accreditation status. If a post-secondary institution doesn’t require the FAFSA and/or does not participate in the federal student aid programs (including federal student loans and the Pell Grant program), it may be because it doesn’t possess the necessary accreditation to do so. Be cautious when considering such an institution. While some schools or programs that don’t have accreditation can be of high quality, asking for job-placement data and speaking with former students and alumni can help ascertain whether the degree or certification will provide a good return on investment and yield long-term career benefits.
In addition to state or federal forms of financial aid, prospective students should remember that colleges and universities may offer their own unique financial aid opportunities. Eligibility will vary for each person, but seeking out as many opportunities as possible may help students pay for their education. Students should expect to be proactive in seeking aid. It’s not uncommon for students to end up with multiple small awards from numerous sources, rather than one large award covering all their costs.
To find out more about some of the schools and programs available in Utah, be sure to check out the ones featured in our school listings below.
- Utah, College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics, http://nces.ed.gov/collegenavigator/?s=UT
- “The Fastest-Growing States in America (and Why They’re Booming),” The Atlantic, http://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/12/the-fastest-growing-states-in-america-and-why-theyre-booming/266541/
- “Utah Poised to Be the Best U.S. State to Live In,” Gallup, http://www.gallup.com/poll/156449/Utah-Poised-Best-State-Live.aspx
- May 2013 State Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates, Utah, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_ut
- “A Stronger Nation through Higher Education, An Annual Report from Lumina Foundation,”Lumina Foundation, http://www.luminafoundation.org/files/resources/a-stronger-nation-through-higher-education-2014.pdf
- “Postsecondary Completers and Completions: 2011-12, Web Tables,” U.S. Department of Education, March 2014, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014033.pdf
- “Enrollment in Distance Education Courses, by State: Fall 2012, Web Tables,” U.S. Department of Education, June 2014, http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2014/2014023.pdf
- “Enrollment holds steady at Utah’s public colleges and universities,” Higher Ed Utah, http://higheredutah.org/enrollment-holds-steady-at-utahs-public-colleges-and-universities/
- “Online Education,” U.S. News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education
- “Westminster College,” U.S. News & World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/westminster-college-230807/overall-rankings
- “Utah State University,” Online Programs, U.S. News & World Report, http://www.usnews.com/education/online-education/utah-state-university-230728
- “University of Utah,” U.S. News & World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/university-of-utah-230764/overall-rankings
- “Southern Utah University,” U.S. News & World Report, http://colleges.usnews.rankingsandreviews.com/best-colleges/southern-utah-university-230603/overall-rankings
- “Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/office-and-administrative-support/bookkeeping-accounting-and-auditing-clerks
- “Bookkeeping, Accounting, and Auditing Clerks,” Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/43-3031.00
- “Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products,” Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/41-4012.00
- “Sales Representatives, Wholesale and Manufacturing, Except Technical and Scientific Products,” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/sales/wholesale-and-manufacturing-sales-representatives
- “Elementary School Teachers (except special education),” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/education-training-and-library/kindergarten-and-elementary-school-teachers
- “Elementary School Teachers (except special education),” Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/25-2021.00
- “Management Analysts,” Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-1111.00
- “Management Analysts,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/management-analysts
- “Auditors,” Occupational Information Network, http://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/13-2011.02
- “Accountants and Auditors,” Occupational Outlook Handbook, May 2014, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/accountants-and-auditors
- “Trends in Higher Education, Tuition and Fees by Sector and State over Time,” CollegeBoard, http://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-fees-sector-state-time
- “Financial Preparation,” Higher Ed Utah, http://higheredutah.org/preparepay/financialpreparation/