A prestigious award given to a University of Utah professor for mathematics research is further evidence of Utah’s ascendance as a place of accomplishment in the academic fields of math, science and engineering. The Breakthrough Prize and its $3 million award to mathematician Christopher Hacon may provide inspiration for public school students here to enter an important field of study in which, somewhat ironically, Utah lags behind other states in rates of proficiency.
While institutions like the U. have made substantial investments to attract top scholars in fields of science, technology, engineering and math, Utah continues to struggle getting students through STEM curricula in numbers sufficient to fill the demand for jobs in the fast-growing tech sector. The award conferred upon Hacon shows the bar here is set high, but we question whether enough is being done to ensure more students in the public schools are poised to reach it.
According to the Education Commission of the States, an interstate education policy alliance, businesses in Utah can’t find the STEM talent to remain competitive, which the organization attributes to “lagging performance” among K-12 students. While proficiency rates have risen slightly since 2003, other states have made much more progress. The average high school graduate in Utah is not ready for college-level math or science curricula, the commission says, adding that in the next 10 years, STEM jobs here will grow 25 percent, while the number of non-STEM jobs will grow by 20 percent.
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