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Utah’s colleges and universities come together for Higher Ed Day on the Hill

Every year, Utah’s colleges and universities come together for Higher Education Day on the Hill—promoting the system of higher education’s workforce development message, talking to lawmakers about individual priorities and sharing their best college swag.

This year, the event was particularly important. With just over a week to go, lawmakers have passed legislation restricting university diversity efforts, setting new guidelines for who can use public restrooms and launching discussions about the future of tenure and a proposal to create a new college at the University of Utah reconfiguring general education requirements to focus on western concepts of civilization.

Weber State University President Brad Mortensen talks to WSU students at Utah’s Capitol Feb. 21, 2024.

In 2024, Utah’s eight degree-granting colleges and universities and technical and community colleges have focused on sharing the value post-high school education brings to the state.

“Higher ed plays such a huge role in the economy of the state. It touches all of our counties. It improves the lives of every Utahn. It really is the best way to achieve social mobility,” said Christian Gardner, chairman of the university’s Board of Trustees. “It’s always good to keep the message going about what higher education does for our state.”

To that end, on tables sprinkled with branded lip balm, blankets, pickle balls and socks, the colleges and universities also shared copies of a policy brief from the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute, “The Value of Higher Education.” Among Utah’s college and university graduates, the Institute’s economists have documented increased earnings, better health outcomes, higher economic mobility and community involvement.

“Higher education is the literal foundation of the prosperity of the state,” said Geoffrey Landward, interim commissioner of the Utah System of Higher Education. “You look around, and it doesn’t matter if it’s the roads you’re driving on, the building you’re walking in, the medicine you’re taking, or the literature you’re reading—all of it comes from higher education.

ASUU President Jack O’Leary and University of Utah Board of Trustees Chairman Christian Gardner talk at Higher Ed on the Hill Day.

“Together, we develop the workforce that makes Utah the best place to work in the country. It’s an engaged workforce, an intelligent workforce engaged in their communities. We know their children are more likely to go to college,” Landward added. “That is the cycle that we need to perpetuate and support. That’s why we do this.”

ASUU President Jack O’Leary said Higher Education Day on the Hill also gives the state’s college students the chance to network with each other and share their perspectives with lawmakers.

“Being able to meet with our state leaders to show how we can impact everybody from kindergarten to college is truly wonderful,” O’Leary said. “If you’re an out-of-state student, or an in-state student…if you’re a first-gen college student or your parents have master’s degrees…you can make it here and you can find what you’re good at, and you can be successful.”

The legislative session ends on March 1.