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By Robert Pembroke

Let’s call them the “Four B's” (big, bold, beautiful and beneficial) and make them the mission of the University of Utah president. Not only will this fill the coffers of the state of Utah through increased tax revenue, but it will also fill the coffers of Utah’s workers — plus give them purpose in their lives.

According to a stellar Wall Street Journal article by Douglas Belkin in February, “U.S. Colleges are Separating into Winners and Losers,” there is a schematic shakeout happening in the 1,040 college and universities around the country. In the column, Belkin details what has happened at two universities 300 miles apart in South Carolina. Concord University, a mid-sized liberal arts university, has seen its freshman enrollment drop 19 percent in the past five years, while Clemson University enrolled its largest freshman class ever in 2017.

I have long opined that the job of the University of Utah is to prepare its students for meaningful employment. This does not necessarily mean getting a job that is high-paying — though that would be nice — but getting a job that satisfies the needs of the student. 

I have a daughter who is a social worker who spends eight hours a day working with individuals and families in order to provide them with a safe and consequential life. The son of a friend of mine counseled with my daughter about substance abuse. Thankfully, she was able to pull him out of the depths of alcoholism and drug abuse. After receiving her master’s degree in social work, she began work for a local substance abuse center for under $30,000 a year — and her life is meaningful.

In order to prosper, the University of Utah must become bigger. I am not referencing the size of the campus or the construction of new buildings, but instead it should try its darndest to increase its enrollment through technology. Silicon Valley is doing excellent work in fashioning online technical classes. This should be the foundation of the University of Utah’s curriculum.

With a new president in place at the University of Utah, the school could make a bold statement by tying its curriculum to Utah’s labor market needs. This could be accomplished by forming an advisory commission composed of both large and small Utah corporate business leaders. This was a very successful technique used by Clemson University to increase its enrollment.

My daughter is doing beautiful work. What could be more beautiful work than saving a person’s life? Billy Graham, who just passed away at age 99, was a great artist when it came to positively affecting the way people live. A strong University of Utah liberal arts course of study is a must.

The university has an obligation to make its products, certificates and degrees an outstanding value to its students. In my judgment, the University of Utah is missing the boat when it comes to value. It takes too long to get a certificate or degree. It costs too much to get a certificate or degree. It postpones a student’s chance for a better life and it’s a drain on taxpayer dollars.

My evidence for the above is the dramatic increase in student debt, the stagnation of wages and the fact that more businesses are dying now than are being born. Student debt is now larger than credit card debt. Wages have not increased in real terms in decades and since 2008, more businesses are expiring than being born.

As my friends and family will tell you, I very seldom criticize anyone. I prefer to present evidence and pose possible solutions to problems. It has been my experience that doing this sparks debate. 

In a Qatar Foundation website treatise on the benefits of debate, it says that “debate helps learners to see the power of deploying rational, reasoned arguments and compelling evidence in action.”

Let the grand Utah educational debate begin at the University of Utah.


Robert Pembroke is the former chairman and CEO of Pembroke’s Inc. in Salt Lake City. He can be reached at