Access and Participation

Goal: Increase the number of Utahns who decide to access, are prepared for, and succeed in higher education.

Access and Participation

Approximately half of Utah high school graduates enter college within one year of high school graduation. Within seven years, this increases to 70 percent.  As a percent of population, Utah has a larger share of young people under age 18 than any other state, at 30.9% compared to 23.3% for the U.S. Utah has the highest birth rate in the nation, is the fourth-fastest growing state in population, and has the seventh-fastest growing economy. Assuming just the current college participation rate, the number of students seeking a higher education in USHE is expected to grow by nearly 50,000 students in the next ten years, if there is the capacity to serve them.

There is a growing gap, however, in participation between ethnic/racial majority and minority students, as well as between low-income students and those who are not low-income:

  • While student enrollment of Hispanic/Latino students in USHE institutions has increased 231% in the past decade—the fastest growing ethnic minority—overall college participation among Utah Hispanic/Latino high school students consistently lags the state average by approximately 20 percent.
  • The college completion rate among ethnic minority students in Utah is approximately half that of white students.
  • The percentage of K-12 students on free and reduced student lunch has increased from 33.2% in 2000-01 to 59%  in 2012-13. The college participation rate of students on free and reduced student lunch is approximately 20 percent lower than for those not on free and reduced lunch.

Unless a larger percentage of the rapidly growing minority segment of the state’s population participates in higher education, the state educational attainment levels will fall in relation to other states, with severe consequences for the state’s economy. Increasing college participation rates, especially among underserved and first-generation students, requires greater investment in student support.

In addition to the challenges of engaging and assisting students without prior family knowledge of college, USHE institutions are already dealing with capacity challenges, having added almost 60,000 new students since 2000—the equivalent of the 2014-15 student bodies at Utah State University and Weber State University combined. It will be a significant challenge to grow capacity academically (enough faculty, course sections, and support staff), physically (capital facilities, infrastructure), and virtually (information technology resources) to maintain this significant enrollment growth. This will take additional state tax fund support as well as continued efficiencies within USHE institutions to keep higher education in Utah both accessible and affordable.