Worried about a degree to nowhere? There’s an app for that. And Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper says it will only cost $8 million to the state.
Stephenson hopes a web portal, dubbed LifeApp currently in development by IBM could be the technological fix to Utah’s higher education system not being able to turn degrees to nowhere into degrees to jobs.
“We have 1.4 million employees now by 2018 we’ll have 1.75 million, but right now we don’t have information to show how higher education aligns to occupational needs,” Stephenson told the Higher Education Appropriations subcommittee.
Stephenson argued that LifeApp would have a user-friendly dashboard that would connect students, employers and institutions of higher education together. That way students would have the most information available to them about career possibilities, Stephenson said.
“This year we had 2,700 students pass the AP Calculus test and earn college credit but only 126 of them intend to major in a [Science/Technology/Engineering/Math] field. You wouldn’t think the pipeline would leak like that,” Stephenson said. “I took four of them to the Utah Technological Council induction banquet. After they had heard from people who had changed the world through technology, all four of them messaged me later to say ‘I’ve changed my mind and I’m going into a STEM field.’”
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek was sympathetic to Stephenson’s proposal but cautioned that the college experiences is not just measured by job placement, but that arts, philosophy and other such courses make for well-rounded students and citizens. “I don’t want students to neglect those areas just because they don’t lead specifically to a job,” Arent said. Stephenson agreed but argued, “All students should go into [their higher education] with eyes wide open. We want them to make information based on full information instead of limited information.”
The greatest obstacle Stephenson ran into was the reality that he is asking Utah to get in on the ground floor of a product that IBM is still only in the BETA stages of developing and that the appropriations would be as much as $8 million according to Stephenson’s estimate.
Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake City, had concerns that Utah might be a guinea pig that publicly funds the development of a product IBM will also market elsewhere.
“The $8 million cost is in connecting all of our resources that will be driving information into the system, it’s not developing the product,” Stephenson said.
Stephenson will still have today to file a bill that would seek the state’s support in having Utah fund the program. He also expects to show fellow legislators a mockup of the LifeApp on February 14.