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Utah Chooses Tech Leaders for Higher Ed Governance

New members of the Utah Board of Higher Education will include executives from biotech, financial tech and tech workforce development sectors, as well as board members of several technical institutions.

Utah State Capitol
Utah state Capitol
Government Technology/Eyragon Eidam
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox tapped several executives from tech companies and private industry last week to lead strategy on the state's new Board of Higher Education, as colleges and universities increasingly focus on technical workforce development.

According to a news release, the change comes as part of SB 146, passed during the 2023 legislative session, which shrinks the higher education governance board from 18 to 10 total members. Gov. Cox nominated four tech company executives and two board members of technical institutions to serve on the state board, pending approval by the Utah state Senate, including Tina Larson, COO of the biotech company Recursion and member of the Utah System of Higher Education's Deep Technology Initiative; Steve Neeleman, founder of the financial technology company HealthEquity; Aaron Skonnard, co-founder and CEO of the tech workforce development company Pluralsight and co-founder and board member of the tech nonprofit Silicon Slopes; Cydni Tetro, CEO of the e-commerce platform Brandless; Amanda Covington, trustee for Weber State University and Davis Technical College and chief corporate affairs officer for the Larry H. Miller Company; and Danny Ipson, board of trustees member for Utah Tech University and CFO of DATS Trucking and Overland Petroleum.

Other nominees include Jon Cox, principal at Utah Public Affairs; Javier Chavez Jr., attorney and founder of Cerveza Zólupez Beer Company; Sharon Eubank, a former leader in a women's organization affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-day Saints; and Holly Talbot, a student at Uintah Basin Technical College.

Utah state Rep. Karen Peterson, a primary sponsor of the legislation, told Government Technology that part of the goal of changes to the board is to increase access to Utah higher ed institutions, adding that there will be a degree of emphasis on IT modernization amid digital transformation efforts at U.S. colleges and universities. She said the board’s appointees will also look to place more emphasis on workforce development efforts.

“As Utah thinks about its higher education system, the goals of SB 146 were to clarify the responsibilities of the Utah Higher Education Board as an oversight board of system, not the individual institutions. The legislation decreased the size of the board to meet better best practices on oversight boards. It also tasked the board with specific system objectives, such as creating shared services for all institutions in areas such as commercialization, IT and [human resources],” she said in an email to Government Technology.

Peterson said the board will also look at a common application and direct admission process to make it easier for Utah students, and it will focus resources on programs that successfully place students after graduation.

“As industries evolve, our institutions need the ability to be nimble in meeting the needs of their students by providing them with opportunities that align with current market demands," she wrote. "By focusing on an efficient and streamlined system, students are benefited with lower costs and institutions whose programming allows for students to seamless[ly] move between them.”

While few details were given about specific plans for the board moving forward, an email from Gov. Cox’s office said the board will look to formulate policies in line with the state’s workforce needs, which could likely include filling vacancies in tech-related job openings as the state’s tech sector continues to grow. According to a recent report from the tech nonprofit CompTIA, 28 percent of technology jobs postings in Utah in 2022 were for careers relating to emerging technologies, or for positions that required emerging tech skills.

“The governor wants Utah’s colleges and universities to be more aligned with workforce needs and responsive to keeping tuition low, and he believes this board will do that,” the office’s email read.
Brandon Paykamian is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from East Tennessee State University and years of experience as a multimedia reporter, mainly focusing on public education and higher ed.