Episode 101 - Innovation in Higher Education: Lessons Learned with Utah's Commissioner of Higher Education

President Scott L Wyatt and Steve Meredith sit down with Dr. Dave Woolstenhulme, Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Utah, to discuss the structure of higher education in Utah and recent shifts that have been made.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined today in the studio, as I almost always am, by President Wyatt. Scott, how are you today?

Scott Wyatt: [Laughs] Terrific, thanks. Yeah, you say almost always because…

Meredith: Yeah, we recently had a 100th podcast episode where we were all on Zoom.

Wyatt: All on Zoom.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: In our own offices.

Meredith: Anyway…fun times. And we are excited in this now past our 100th episode to continue talking about innovation and we have as a…sometimes, we get really high-falutin guests, and today is a great example of that. Why don't you introduce our important guest?

Wyatt: Thanks, Steve. Yeah, we are honored to have with us today Dr. Dave Woolstenhulme, who is the Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Utah. Welcome, Dave.

Dr. Dave Woolstenhulme: Hey, thanks Scott. It's great to be here with you and always good to have conversations with you because you're always pushing the envelope, which I really appreciate. Some might not, but I do. So, it'll be fun to have a conversation with you.

Wyatt: Well, it's fun to be able to talk about "what ifs."

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Woolstenhulme: Absolutely. Why not, right?

Wyatt: Yeah. Well, this is…we're in a very interesting time in the state of Utah as it talks about governance and everything, because we've seen some significant shifts in our governing legislation and board and all of that, all mixed together.

Meredith: For higher education.

Wyatt: For higher education.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And it might be good, Dave, if we started out by saying…because many of our listeners are in Utah, but most of our listeners won't have any real concept of how the structure is in Utah.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, and I agree with that. One of the things that…I'm almost floored every day when I talk to somebody that even lives here in Utah that's not even fully aware of what that means and what that looks like. So, I think it's also going to be useful to the folks in Utah that listen to it as well. Even some legislators that voted for it may not know exactly what it looks like. So, I do think this is really an important topic to discuss and to look at ways it's going to impact higher education in the state of Utah moving forward.

Wyatt: So, let's put out just a little bit of a general framework to start out. We have eight degree-granting state institutions in Utah. Two of them are community colleges, six of them are universities. Of the six, two are research. And they are governed by what we now call the Utah Board of Higher Education, right?

Woolstenhulme: Yep, yep.

Wyatt: And we have kind of a two-tiered governance structure, which is I think somewhat unique, in that the Board of Higher Education is the governing body for the flagship research school on the one hand, and also for the small, rural community college on the other. So, everybody has the same boss. And then, in addition to that, there is a level of Board of Trustees for each of those eight institutions, and the trustees have some original authority and some delegated authority from the board. So, we kind of have a two-level board.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Wyatt: And sometimes when we have accreditors come, it's a little confusing to explain that to them, but that's the system. So, we have a statewide board for kind of the broad pieces and then we have local boards that help us with specific matters to our schools. So, there's kind of a start.

Woolstenhulme: Really the day-to-day operations, right? With the local Board of Trustees?

Wyatt: Yeah. And then on top of that, we have these technical colleges who don't grant credit. And you were the commissioner of that system for a while, so why don't you describe what that looks like?

Woolstenhulme: Yeah. So, very similar to what the degree-granting institutions looked like under the old Utah System of Higher Education. We had the eight technical colleges that really were around the state within different regions. And they're…as you mention, they didn't' and they still don't grant credit, but they really provide opportunities for individuals to come in and to get skills in a particular area. Whether that's diesel mechanics, automotive, whatever that looks like, but it's around a certificate of competency, not so much credits like you'd normally see in higher education. And in those six colleges, the programs look very similar across all regions of the state, but with that said, they generally focus on the industry needs of that particular region. So, a good example of that I always like to use is out in the Uinta Basin, they're welding program is probably going to be geared around some of these things that the oil and gas industry may need. So, when you're in Bridgerland Tech College in Logan, they may have very much the same competencies, but their elective type of the program may look much different than it would in the Uinta Basin. So, varies the needs to the specific industries within their region.

Wyatt: So, we've got eight degree-granting and eight certificate granting? Competency certificates…shorter career programs?

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, and I think with that, too, Scott, I think we have to remember that we have three of those degree-granting are the institutions that were under the Board of Regents that have the role of the technical college, and that would be Snow College, where you were the president for a few years, USU Eastern in Blanding and Moab, and then Salt Lake Community College here on the Wasatch Front, where there used to be a technical college, but several years ago, that technical college was rolled into the degree-granting institution in that region.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, we've got a hodge-podge, don't we?

Woolstenhulme: Yep. Yeah. [Both laugh] To say the least.

Wyatt: And so, then if we go back a couple years, we had two separate systems.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Wyatt: We had the Utah Board of Regents, and that governed the degree-granting schools, and then we had…what was the board called back originally?

Woolstenhulme: It was…to really confuse it, it was the Board of Trustees. [Laughs]

Wyatt: The Board of Trustees. And that was the board that governed the eight technical schools?

Woolstenhulme: Correct.

Wyatt: And then there came a time that everybody thought it'd be good to pull these groups together, and so we merged the schools. And that was…I'm trying to remember exactly, but that seems like it was about 12 years ago.

Woolstenhulme: Yep, I believe it was 20--…I want to say it was 2011. 2009-2011, right in that area.

Wyatt: The two systems were merged, but back then, the eight technical colleges were all kind of branches of one technical college, I think.

Woolstenhulme: You're absolutely right. We had…the state had one president and he was the president back then of UCAT—Utah College of Applied Technologies—and he oversaw all eight of the technical colleges. And you're right I think, having it as a branch or as an offshoot of the whole system. So, the whole system was recognized as one, but with eight campuses that made up the one.

Wyatt: So, then the Legislature merged the two together, which basically turned the Board of Trustees that oversaw the technical colleges into an advisory board, and made the president of UCAT one of the sister-presidents in the higher ed system. And that didn't last very long.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah. There were some real issues with that with the technical colleges that they were kind of the orphans, if you will, of the system. I've heard that referred from the technical colleges back then, again, under UCAT, they really did feel like they were just the step-child, if you will, and not really recognized as a player.

Wyatt: I think there's great lessons to be learned from that experience. Because what happened is that, as you know very well, the two systems were put together and then the board over the higher ed became the board over all. So, it was like an adoption.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Wyatt: And the Board of Regents, who had been governing the degree-granting universities since 1969 chose the first new president of this system. And they actually hired a really terrific guy, but he was out of the university system. So, they…it probably started out with all the best intentions, but was doomed to fail because they were one voice in a large group that came into a system that had already been created, and their president was hired from within the higher ed system. So, they did feel like an orphan child.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, and if you think about that now looking back, I think we've learned a lot from that as we've looked back to maybe make sure we don't fall into that trap again. So, obviously we'll talk about that in a few minutes, but you look at that now—hindsight is always 2020 of course—but you can see exactly what you said, Scott. We probably set it up for failure from the very beginning the way that we orchestrated it.

Wyatt: Yeah. So, it lasted…I don't remember how long it lasted, Dave, but…

Woolstenhulme: Not very long.

Wyatt: I wish I could remember, but it seems to me like it was only maybe two years.

Woolstenhulme: Yep, I think you're right. I think it was right at two years if I remember right.

Wyatt: So, then it divided out again and that division kind of sent us in different directions and wasn't completely a happy love-fest.

Woolstenhulme: Well, I think just the divorce, right?

Wyatt: Yep.

Woolstenhulme: Of that with some ugliness…if you look back in the history, there was some ugliness around what had taken place there and the UCAT schools at the time being not happy with where they were at. And we had some of the higher education didn't want that split out, but us legislators split it out. I think you said it really well, when we started to have a divide greater than even before we brought the two boards together and the two different systems together. So, at that point forward for many years being involved with both systems, we just saw a lot of competitiveness. We saw a lot of working against one another. We…I think we all felt like we were fighting for the same students, when in all reality, we should be letting students determine where they want to be, whether it be at a tech college or whether it be at a university at one of the degree-granting. Anyway, I think it just actually made us even worse as they split them out. And then we were like that for several years.

Wyatt: Yeah, and when you were describing that, Dave, I remembered all those years at the Legislature during that period, because I was a president when the systems came together and separated and the back together again, and of course, you were more involved than I was, but I remember going to the Legislature and seeing the competitiveness. You know, "We're doing more technical education than they are." And, "Well, no you're not, you're just counting it different than we are." "Well, yes we are." A lot of competition for resources, and it didn't serve either of us well.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah. It didn't serve any of us well, and the individual that got hurt was the student, right?

Wyatt: Mhmm.

Woolstenhulme: And unfortunately, everything we're set up to do is to provide services to our students and opportunities for our students and meet the need of the workforce, and I will argue that we didn't do either very well for a while. We did well in our own little circle, but we didn't do well in either of the systems to really try to maximize our efforts.


Wyatt: You are…so, if we move this story forward a little bit, we've merged again.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah. [Laughs]

Meredith: And that was just last year, is that right? At the last Legislative session?

Woolstenhulme: Yeah. So, just like corduroy. You wait long enough, it will be back in, right? [All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, it's…I think it's either a miracle that the two systems came back together, or it's indicative of the fact that we needed to be together. And you are the first commissioner of this newly reconstituted, remerged comprehensive system.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, and it's fun to be a part of this, and it's fun to be a part of it because I think we all recognized for a long period of time—whether we would admit it or not for a long period of time—that being together really does allow us to serve our students better. And I think, Scott, you're a great example of that, and I think one of the greatest things that as I was the Commissioner of Technical Education, and it might have been the best day I ever had with Technical Education, is when you called me down and I had no idea what I was coming down for, but you talked about great partnerships that can happen—and this was before the merge, this was a couple of years before the merger when I was Commissioner of Tech Ed—you sat me down in…not your office, but over in the President of the Southwest Tech's office, in Brennan's office, and said, "This is what we believe we can do and we can make it happen." And in my mind, that was one of the determining factors for Legislators, as well as in my mind, that got me thinking that, "You know, we're probably better off together. I mean, this is great to have a partnership, but how much better would this partnership work if we were under one force?" So, kudos to you for, again, being probably the one that pushed us a little bit…or a lot…to say, "Hey, there's a lot of things we could do better."

Wyatt: Well, I think you give me more credit than I deserve, but…

Woolstenhulme: I don't think so. I'll argue that all day, too. So…[All laugh]

Wyatt: Well, we did learn…President Brennan Wood and I and with your support and help, we did learn some of the barriers that existed when we tried to come together and create a really comprehensive partnership. And a lot of those things can be solved by bringing the governance together.

Woolstenhulme: And Scott, when you say a lot of those were artificial barriers once you really dug into it—and I know you guys spent an enormous amount of time and effort—but when you say they were kind of artificial barriers that we had put up for many, many years such as accreditation, such as all the things that people have told you never could have been done that you guys worked through, it took a lot of work, but you guys were able to knock those barriers over.

Wyatt: Yeah, and actually as coincidences have it, Steve, who is my partner in crime on this podcast, was SUU's lead on the dual-enrollment program at Southwest Tech.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And Steve did a phenomenal job.

Meredith: In answer to your question, Commissioner, there were those kinds of…I like to call them "Artificial Administrative Barriers." Things that we don't have to do, we just do them because that's how we've always done them.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Meredith: There are some things that we have to do for accreditation purposes or because of financial aid regulations or whatever, but there's a ton of stuff…I'm going to say about 80/20 is administrative barriers that we make, not that we are required to have. And so, as you've suggested, it was President Wyatt and President Wood and the recognition that we were going to convene these meetings and that they were just going to become a caged death match. [All laugh] No one was leaving until we had an agreement, and we knew that both presidents felt that way. That really helped us knock down those barriers as you've suggested.

Woolstenhulme: Well, Steve, and I…man, I'll give all the kudos in the world to you guys for making this happen, because I've been on many different task forces or committees, and unless it's being driven from the top, it's pretty easy to find reasons why you shouldn't do it. But as soon as, like you had mentioned, the two presidents said, "We will make this happen," all of the sudden it's a different mindset. And so, it's like, "Oh, geez, we'd better get this done." And I think some of them are artificial, but like you mentioned Steve, some of them were real barriers, but even some of the real barriers you guys have been able to work around, and I think we have an opportunity to really be the voice of more than just the state of Utah. As I share with my colleagues, other commissioners in the western United States, when I meet with them, they're really intrigued at what we're doing and what this new system means. And I believe we have a lot of people out there taking note and watching to see how this all might come together and how maybe we can lead out in the country on how technical education and degree-granting institutions can be together. And again, it's not so much of what we've done the last 50 years, it's a new economy out there, it's a new world, if you will, and if we don't figure it out, somebody else isn't going to and our schools are going to be left behind because we're just kind of dragging behind doing the same things that we've done for many, many years, but yet we expect different results. And as you know the saying goes, we keep doing the same things, we can expect the same results. And the good thing is, I feel like we're in a place where we're not doing that, that we are leading out in some of these areas, and it's institutions like Southern Utah and Southwest Tech that's helping us get there.

Wyatt: Yeah. The…bringing the two systems back together so that we all have the same governing board, the same bosses, so to speak, is going to make a lot of the barriers go away. You were, at the time, the Commissioner of the technical system, and very supportive, and the Commissioner of the higher ed system was skeptical. And so, no fault of his, it's just we're two different worlds and how do we make this work? But I think your support was critical for making it happen.

Meredith: No question.

Woolstenhulme: Well…

Wyatt: Well, and then when…yeah, because I think it motivated Brennan to really see the value in it. But let's talk for just a second about why do we believe that the second merger isn't going to work, where the first one didn't? For those that are studying this kind of thing, if you get the governance right, then everything else can kind of fall into place. If you don't, it's going to send everybody packing in the different directions, so…

Woolstenhulme: That's a really good point, Scott. One of the things that I think the Legislature did a really good job on was hiring a consultant to come in and really do a lot of work. Work with communities, working with both Board of Trustees, working with the industry, working with institutions to determine what a new structure might look like or what it would be, and they provided several different options. Obviously the one we fell to was the systems coming together under one board, but I think that alone just gave a lot of credibility to everybody having a voice, everybody being able to weigh in on what they felt like was best for the state of Utah. So, I think they did a really good job at the beginning. And some people may criticize that they spent a half million dollars to do that, but I believe if you spend a half million dollars to do that and you get it right, that's going to pay off big time moving forward. And so, I think just having a voice from industry to our institutions all the way through was really critical in the very beginning. And then after that, we took a significant amount of time, about a year and a half, to really look at how the governance should be set up to make sure and look at the pitfalls that we've had from before. And if you think about it, it was probably a good thing we did that 11 or 12 years ago, or else we probably would have been making the same mistakes right now. The good thing is, I do think we learned from the past.

Wyatt: Absolutely right. I totally agree with that, because when we merged the first time, the whole technical system was one institution with one president. And then after we dissolved, the technical system ended up being eight institutions with eight presidents. So, now when we come back together, it's not all of us against one.

Meredith: Mhmm.

Wyatt: In fact, you've got the same number of degree-granting institutions as the certificate technical institutions, and they feel more empowered by that, don't they?

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, I totally agree with that. Now all of the sudden you have 16 presidents sitting around at a table, they may all have a different role, but they're all just as important. They're an important part, they're 1/16 of the system. And luckily, I really credit our degree-granting institutions, because when something like that would happen, usually our degree-granting institutions are credentialed and much higher leveled, they're holding doctorate degrees, they have been very accomplished, where our tech college presidents may be more involved with industry. So, it could just be that the natural tendencies for the university presidents and the degree-granting presidents to say, "Oh, well we're much more important than them." Man, I haven't felt that. In fact, I've felt just the opposite. I think the degree-granting institution presidents have reached out, almost bent over backwards to make sure that as we went through this process, that the technical college presidents do feel valued and that they are an important 16th of the system. and I just really appreciate that, because it so easily could have went the other way.

Wyatt: So, we had a good consultant who could come in and look and understand what went wrong the time before, talk to everybody, get all of this input, could figure out where the pitfalls might be, and "If you try to do this, it's going to fail, so don't do that. Here's some suggestions." And then we made the technical schools equal partners with the degree-granting institutions. So, those are two of the big ones.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: I think a third reason why it was successful, Dave, is that the…is that we took the two boards and dissolved them both and created a new one. So, nobody was…

Woolstenhulme: Yes, and…

Wyatt: Nobody was being adopted.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, you know, and one of the things was meeting as a board, with the Board of Regents, I was the Interim Commissioner at that time of Higher Education and I was meeting with the Board of Regents, and something very powerful happened in a meeting, and that's when the Board of Regents decided…they were trying to figure out how to pull the two boards together and if they brought everybody together it would be something like 30 members, and everybody said, "That is crazy to have a board with 30 members." And our Board of Regents at the time, and I believe it was Crystal Maggelet regent's call at the time said, "You know what? We should all resign and then let the governor choose from the two boards the correct number moving forward." And all the regents that day agreed that they would resign and then let the governor choose the makeup of the new board coming from outside, people that weren't involved with either board, and then also could choose members keeping some continuity between the Board of Trustees that was overseeing the tech colleges and the Board of Regents that were overseeing the degree-granting. And I think that was a really smart move.

Wyatt: Yeah, so we've got a fresh board—some carry over from both of the prior boards but some new—have a fresh new board, give it a new name, we don't call them what we used to call them.

Meredith: Right. Not regents anymore.

Wyatt: Yep. And then we get a new Commissioner and I think there was just tremendous wisdom in hiring somebody that had a foot in both systems. You had worked in the higher ed system for a number of years and you had worked in the tech system for a number of years. That was just perfect, because everybody felt like they had a commissioner that had some understanding of them. We didn't have that before.

Woolstenhulme: I think that is correct, and I think it's helped me in this position to be able to have a better understanding of what the tech institutions are dealing with, as well as the degree-granting. I will say that I'm not so sure I wouldn't be in this position without experience of one or the other, because lacking one of them I think would be pretty hard to navigate some of the things that we're having to navigate.

Wyatt: Yeah. Well, you already had a relationship with every president of both systems, and everybody knew that you understood them. I think that was just huge. Is there…

Woolstenhulme: It was big. And I…we have some great presidents. We're very fortunate in the state to really have 16 outstanding presidents, and always…each time we have some with some strengths that maybe others don't have, but you guys really are collaborative and offset each other's strengths and weaknesses really well.

Wyatt: Is there anything else? I'm trying to think if there's any major points…

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, the other thing that…the other thing I think was…as we worked through it with Speaker Wilson and Senator Millner and put together the planning commission, which was a statutory board that was assigned by the Legislature to really study this out and be a part of the study, one of the things that we recognized real quickly is some things that we put into statute around funding, around securing buildings, those types of things to where we're treating them differently for technical education and for degree-granting, and the reason we did that is we didn't want to get to where there was a battle between building between the two systems, funding, whatever. So, I think that helped the tech colleges in a way that they didn't feel like they were just going to be swallowed up by Big Brother, if you will. I think that was really a settling time for them to say, "You know what, our funding is not going to be hurt, our processes are not going to be hurt." But one of the other major advantages is as we move forward, I think we're going to have some real efficiencies around how we operate and how we do things for backdoor operations of an institution. It probably…well, it won't change the front, what the students going to see, but when you look at HR, you look at IT, you look at cyber security, you look at auditing, you look at all of these back room functions of an institution, and we're complicating that by doing it 16 different times throughout the state. I just…if you're a business person, you sit back and go, "There's got to be a more efficient and effective way that we could even provide better services than what we're currently providing." I think everybody is trying hard, but there's just not enough resources to go around to do everything we need to do. And so, that's going to be another major advantage going forward is that…and we're already seeing a lot of it in small ways, but I think that's going to be something five years from now the Legislature is going to look back on and the State Board is going to look back on and say, "Not only do we have better pathways and better opportunities for students, but we've also done it much more efficient."

Wyatt: These are hard things, right? I mean, I'm speaking as a president, and presidents like to control their world. [All laugh]

Woolstenhulme: That might be an understatement. [Laughs]

Wyatt: Yeah, you can tell me that…

Meredith: We just give you the illusion of control, Scott.

Wyatt: I know, I know. It is all an illusion, but you tell me that you can make it more efficient and better, but somebody else is going to be in control of certain aspects and we get kind of nervous about that.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, I know. And I think it's a natural tendency, right? And I don't blame presidents for thinking that way…

Wyatt: It's human nature.

Woolstenhulme: But it's…

Meredith: Right.

Woolstenhulme: It's human nature, yeah. And I would feel the same way if I was a president. I was the president of the Uintah Applied Technology College and somebody would have said this, I probably would have had that same tendency. In fact, not "probably," I would have. But hopefully we can all sit back and, again, the number one question is that institutions are much bigger than any of us, and so what we've got to look at is what's best for state tax payers? Which we are all part of that, and then what's best for students and how can we keep tuition low? How can we keep tuition low? And one of the ways to do that is to just be more efficient in what we do.

Meredith: Commissioner, you're probably aware of this, I was only aware of it because I don't serve on the day-to-day for Southwest Tech anymore, but we recently signed an agreement with them to handle their Title IX issues at Southwest Tech, so we're partnering together through our Title IX office, and these efficiencies of scale that happen between…when people can partner on the back room things as you've been describe, we're…President, I don't think I'm speaking out of turn, that we continue to look at ways to model that out with Southwest Tech. I've often thought that the most brilliant idea that anybody had for that whole project was President Wyatt's idea to say, "You know what? Let's just treat everybody as if they're employees of both places." And he and President Wood got together and thought that was a good idea, and again, we felt like we had carte blanche to be able to just go ahead and negotiate a bunch of things like dually branded activity cards and free tickets to athletic and cultural events and tuition waivers and all of those things that we're just going to share all of those items. And it's amazing when you have cultural differences, the very real cultural differences that exist between a credit/degree-granting institution versus a clock hour, non-degree-granting institution or a certificate granting institution. If you can change the employee culture, if you can change around the edges of the way that the individuals that work at the institutions think about their own institution and think about their sister institutions, you're about 90% of the way to success. I…for a year, I fielded phone calls about the Southwest Tech partnership, and every single one of them…nobody asked a question about curriculum, every single one of them was, "Hey, my son or daughter is really interested in taking HVAC classes over at Southwest Tech. Have you guys figured out a way that I can get a tuition waiver?" [All laugh] And it was amazing to me that immediately, the staff and faculty on both sides not only embraced…we did the hard work of figuring out the curricular tables and doing all those things, but we immediately embraced each other as brothers and sisters in higher ed. And that was a big, big change for us I think.

Wyatt: Yeah, it was. The concept was, as you've said, Steve, that we've done all this work to bring the best benefit to the students, but there will continue into the future to be challenges with that. It will be inconvenient for one institution or the other.

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: There will always be these little challenges. So, in order to cement this, we…at SUU, this isn't true at all schools, but at SUU the faculty and staff can go to the basketball and football games for free with their employee card. So, we just said to Southwest Tech, "We're going to consider you employees, you can go to the games for free too."

Meredith: Right.

Wyatt: And when we have some big event, we invite all of their employees to come, which goes back to one of those maxims of political science, which is the greatest good occurs when a person's action benefits the public and herself. [Laughs]

Meredith: Right.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Wyatt: At the same time.

Woolstenhulme: That is…

Wyatt: So, anyway, it's been fun.

Meredith: Yeah, it's been a fun model to work on. And I do get calls still. I wrote a couple of articles about it for NWCCU and have talked with people…

Wyatt: NWCCU is our accreditor.

Meredith: Yeah, our Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities. And we…I think President Wood has given some talks about it and I'm sure President Wyatt gets asked about it all of the time. We even sat on a conference call with UVU and their local committee college, or technical college partner.

Wyatt: Mountain Lands.

Meredith: Yeah, Mountain Land. And it will be interesting to see if others are able to follow this pattern. When we talked to the Senate Appropriations Committee, Higher Ed Appropriations Committee, they asked us about why this had taken so long because it seems like such a no-brainer. And I said, "Senator, it's because it's actually hard to do." [All laugh] They really are two separate cultures and I'm…

Woolstenhulme: Well, you've got 50 years of history to break through, right?

Meredith: That's right.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: That's right. It just seems to the outside world as though it is a no-brainer, and obviously it's in the student's best interest, it's just hard for us to break through the silos—either real or imagined—that exist between us. But I love that this reorganization has happened and I'm a big fan of yours, Commissioner. We have talked often about the fact that it is wonderful that someone with as wide a scope of experience is serving as the first Commissioner of this new model.

Woolstenhulme: Well, thank you. One of the things that makes me the most nervous of where we're going…I love the positive things of what we've talked about in where we're going, but President Wood and President Wyatt are not always going to be in that region, and it really is going to be critical that the State Board starts to develop policy and processes moving forward that when a new Scott comes in or a new Brennan comes in, all…you just see this happen over and over again. All the work that somebody has done can be erased real quickly, right? And so, that's…I am just determined to put some things in place at the local level of the Board of Trustees as well as the state level that we don't take and go back 50 years just with the flick of a pen just because we have new presidents in the region. That would just be…that would make me just sit down and bawl if we got to that point where that happened. And so, we've got to make sure we have some protections and that we celebrate what we're doing, but make sure we can preserve it long-time.

Wyatt: These partnerships can be hard, because it's always true that one partner is giving more than the other. It just…there is never a perfect balance. And so, there's always that temptation to look at it and think, "Well, is this in our best interest or not?"

Meredith: Well, you made the analogy of adoption versus marriage.

Wyatt: Marriage.

Meredith: Yeah. I…in marriage, very often one partner is working hard at a certain time that another partner, for whatever reason, is unable to give as much. That's just the way it is.

Wyatt: Yeah, you kind of have to come into it thinking that…everybody has to come into it thinking, "I'm going to have to give more than half." But sometimes that makes these things hard to sustain forever, as you said Dave.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah.

Wyatt: So, let's project forward five or six years or seven years. What do you hope we can…where we can take this completely rebuilt governance? What do you think the outcomes are going to be?

Woolstenhulme: What I hope and what I truly believe the outcomes will be is that our students within the state of Utah will be able to move from one institution to the next without all of the hang-ups that they currently have, and that's from degree-granting to degree-granting, but more importantly by having all the institutions together, is to be able to take the technical certificates, move them into bachelor's degrees, move them into a meaningful pathway that is really meeting the needs of the industry. I just am a firm believe that what we have done in education for hundreds of years has to be redeveloped, has to be changed, and it has to be changed in a way that we're not…yeah, we can worry about the soft skill side of things, but we've got to be able then to tie it back into some true competencies of what's going on in the workforce. Now, that's not to say that the soft skills is not important to wrap around it, but I think we focus way too long sometimes on that and not really tie it in into what it is industry's done. I often look at degree programs…some of them haven't changed for 50 years or more. [All laugh]

Meredith: Oh, yeah.

Woolstenhulme: But you look around industry, and they're changing every single day, right? And so, it's like, "I think we're probably a little bit outdated in a few of our areas." Some of them are probably really good, but I would like to challenge a little bit over that time to make sure that we are better connected to industry and that we're really aligning to do that. The other thing I really want to make sure we get done, Scott, is it's something to bring a student into our system, but boy, it just pains me to not get them out the back door with a credential to where they're better off than when they came. And nobody…not very many students, I won't say "nobody" because some might, but not very many students come into our institutions just to learn. I mean, they come to learn, but the goal is hopefully to have a career after that, right?

Wyatt: Yep.

Woolstenhulme: So, if we're getting students going through and they're not connecting to a career, or we're getting students halfway through and for whatever reason they have to bail out, now we've saddled them with student loans, with taking two or three years of their life away from them, and they still have no more earning power than they did when they came in. We've got to really focus on that, so I think in the next five years, if we can make sure that we have the pathways there, that we're not making students loop back just because they went to a tech college to a university, that we can really recognize the good that they've done there, that we can recognize the prior learning, that we can recognize the things that they've already learned outside, move to more of a competency-based model, I mean, I could go on for…this podcast would be way too long, but the reality is we just have so much work to do, but that's what excites me. That's why I want to get out of bed every morning and say, "You know what? We can do better. And not only can we, we will."

Wyatt: If you're teaching in the class, you see exactly who is benefiting from what you're teaching. If you're sitting in an office in Salt Lake as the Commissioner, you don't always see exactly who is going to benefit. So, you have to really keep reminding yourself that you're benefiting thousands and thousands and thousands of people that are in the system today and will be in the system tomorrow. But you don't get that instant feedback that is motivating, so, when we sit in administrative offices, we have to keep reminding ourselves of why we're doing it.

Woolstenhulme: That is so true. You don't know how many times I've thought to myself, "What am I doing? It was so fun to teach. It was so fun to be on campus where students are walking around, and now all I get to do is be in meetings with ornery people." And I say that jokingly, not ornery, but usually things that you're having to work through and dig through and, again, it's not pleasing everybody, but you're right. We have to sit back and say, "You know what, if we push through this and we do the right thing, it really is going to bless the lives of many."

Wyatt: Yeah. Well, these are all exciting initiatives.

Meredith: Very much so.

Wyatt: Finding a way to fully articulate between the technical schools and each other and the universities and each other and then the universities and the technical schools…it's actually pretty complicated, isn't it? [Laughs]

Woolstenhulme: It is. And so, I think you just used a really keyword there, and it's one that a lot of people listening to the podcast might not understand, and it's the difference between transfer and articulate, right? Meaning that transfer…anybody can transfer credits, but that doesn't mean that it counts for anything when it gets there.

Meredith: Right.

Woolstenhulme: And that's the articulation part that has to take place. Because too many times, even the Legislature will talk about transfer. Well, transfer is great, but transfer can actually even end up hurting a student for PELL grants and everything else. What we need to make sure is that they articulate, and so I really appreciate you using that word, because we overuse "transfer" way too much, when it's really not that powerful.

Wyatt: Yeah. "Does my work count for something?"

Woolstenhulme: Exactly.

Wyatt: We're constantly on this path…I mean, that's where our dogs are hunting every day, but it sure is hard because all of the institutions have their own cultures, and that's good. But anyway, that's a big job, getting all of these pathways, the articulations…

Woolstenhulme: Well, you know…

Wyatt: But we can get there. Some states have done very well at this.

Woolstenhulme: Yeah, I would say we're a little bit behind in some of these areas, right? But the good thing is, I think we can catch up quickly because we have such talented people in our institutions. We'll catch up and hopefully we will even surpass a lot of them and actually maybe do some things a little different than most of them that really benefits…you look at our economy in Utah, we're so blessed to have such a strong economy, but it can even be better when you look at the things that we can change within our education system, and I do believe education drives the economy. So, if we can improve, can you imagine what the state would be as far as our economy? I mean, we're already performing number one, but think where we could be if we could fix some of these things we've talked about today.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: Yeah. Senator Urquhart, who used to chair the Higher Ed Appropriations Committee in the Utah State Legislature, talked about…I think the term was "suspended capital." And a student that gets part way through the system and doesn't finish or something like that, there's a capital investment in that student. The student's invested in herself, and the state is invested in her, and if something goes wrong along the way then we've got this suspended capital that it's not producing anything.

Woolstenhulme: Yep.

Wyatt: And of course, it is producing something, but…but it hasn't been fully realized. Well, let's see…that's a good list of jobs actually. [Laughs]

Meredith: Yeah. You've got a lot to do. [All laugh]

Woolstenhulme: I think we all have job security for a while, right?

Wyatt: The transfer and articulation, the pathways to go from technical colleges to the universities, and frankly, from universities to technical colleges, to make this efficient for students, to help them. Sometimes, we say, "Ah, the students need to learn how to be tough and they need to understand how to work through it." But I really think that what we're also doing is we're modeling for them good customer service.

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: We're modeling for them the way they should behave, and so we have to behave perfectly so that they learn how to behave perfectly.

Meredith: Well, and it's not just these articulations between the various institutions, but it's then articulating them outward to industry as the Commissioner has suggested.

Wyatt: Yeah.

Meredith: Finding programs that are 50 years out of date and hopefully attaching them to a more modern model.

Wyatt: Yeah. We're friends, so we would never tell the public that a few things are out of date, but we talk about it amongst ourselves. [Laughs]

Meredith: We do.

Woolstenhulme: And then one more thing, President, that i would also that when I look at the five years, and I really believe this is going to happen by the systems coming together and the collaboration, is we have so many jobs in today's new economy and in today's new world that it's going to focused around technical education. I do believe, because now we're under one system and we're partnering so much, there's a perception of technical education, hopefully, needs to change. It's not the old [inaudible] from when we went through school, right?

Meredith: Right.

Woolstenhulme: It's totally different with the type of skills that are out there and the things they can learn at our technical colleges. So, I think this coming together really does elevate the technical colleges, and hopefully we can keep sharing that message that great career opportunities are out there for students. I'm a firm believer that too many times, we force students down one pathway, and it was the pathway we were used to, right? Of the traditional types of education to where today, there's multiple pathways for these students and multiple opportunities, and we really ought to be pushing the students to where the student wants to go by sharing with them all of the opportunities that are out there. And that's one of the things that I can't end this podcast without saying that I really appreciate you and Southwest Tech and what you've done. Because a student may show up over at your school, and by the time you get done talking with them, they're better off over at Southwest Tech, you just lost a student but you don't care because you know it's better for the student. Right?

Wyatt: Yeah, that's right.

Woolstenhulme: So, I just think that is probably one of the most critical things we've got to get around is the competition thing. It's not a competition, it's what's best for the student, and if they're better served at our friends across the street, let's walk them over there and make sure they're served there. And that hasn't happened in the past. So, my hat goes off to you and Brennan to really be focused around that area. And in the long run, this scenario I just shared, you're the winner, because what's going to happen to that student at your institution if they don't want to be there? They're going to drop out and we're going to be right into that scenario that you talked about that Senator Urquhart used to say. Well, if we get them over to Southwest Tech and that's really where they want to be, they will complete there and there's a good chance that you'll see them back over at your institution in one of those pathways. So, I think that's something that we're going to see a major benefit around with just the perception of tech ed and the opportunities that are out there for those individuals that go through those programs. And they're a much better student for that. For those individuals to go sit in an office like we do all day, they're not going to like that very much, but they very much like going out and being a diesel mechanic or an automotive or an HVAC or whatever it is they really have a passion for.

Wyatt: Well, and Dave and Steve, I think we've all talked about this and I think it's good to just state it again, which is that there is value to students in both sides of this from gaining things from the other side. We have a theater student that just graduated who, as part of her work, took welding courses at Southwest Tech. So, she has…

Meredith: And articulated them, not transferred them.

Wyatt: Articulated them, that's right.

Meredith: Articulated them course-by-course.

Woolstenhulme: How cool.

Wyatt: They were part of her degree program.

Meredith: Yep.

Woolstenhulme: To think what you just said…that is short of amazing. That is just short of a miracle that something like that could happen.

Meredith: Yep.

Wyatt: So, she got all the benefits of the higher education, and she got all of the benefits of the technical school to merge what we both can do best, and she is much better prepared for her job. And that has to be true in every aspect, that the students at the technical colleges can use some of the things that only we can deliver, and we need some of the things that only they can deliver. Because the employers are demanding more than they used to demand.

Meredith: Yep.

Woolstenhulme: Yep. Perfect example.

Wyatt: Well, this has been fun. Any last words?

Woolstenhulme: You know, my only last word is we've got a lot to do, but I really…

Meredith: So, we should get off the phone and get going? [Laughs]

Woolstenhulme: No, no, no, we could talk about this all day, but I think we have need to have more conversations about this, because I've even got things going through my mind now going around this that I hadn't thought of before. I'm not going to bring those up because it adds an hour on our podcast, but I think the more we have conversations like this, the more all of us can start to realize that there's more that we can do than we've even realized I guess would be my parting words.

Wyatt: Yeah. Well said.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guest today Dr. Dave Woolstenhulme, who is the Commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Utah. Commissioner, thanks for joining us.

Woolstenhulme: Hey, my pleasure. It's always good to visit with the two of you.

Meredith: And thanks to all our listeners who are tuning in. We'll be back with another podcast real soon. Bye bye.