Top Research Findings of 2014: Part I

Written by: Shawn Teigen

Each December, top-10 lists start popping up to reflect the events and highlights of the past year. We encourage you to add our Top Research Findings of 2014 to your year-end reading list. Selected by Utah Foundation staff, the Foundation’s board of directors voted on these findings last week to determine their order of importance. This posting includes the first three from that list (10 through 8), with the remaining seven to be announced within the next week and a half.

10: “While the missionary effect may be cited as directly affecting the time to graduation, it is not reflected in the data.” (“Steps Forward in Higher Ed,” to be released in December 2014.)

Four year rates


Notice that Utah students pursuing bachelor’s degrees are taking longer than the U.S. average to graduate, but that more of them are graduating between their sixth and eighth years than the national average (9% vs 3%). The thought is that this delay in Utah is due to LDS missionaries taking longer to graduate due to their two-year hiatuses.

That is incorrect. In fact, students who take official church missions are completely removed from the graduation/completion data.

Find out why so many students are spending six years getting a college degree (which in Utah takes even longer).

9: “In the four-county Wasatch Front, the average household spends 26% of household income on transportation.” (“Roadmap to 2050,” released in June 2014.)


Auto dependent


In other words, Utahns drive an awful lot.

8: “If all of Utah’s current outstanding general obligations were downgraded from a AAA bond rating to a AA+ it would cost an additional $1.5 million annually.” (“The Role of Bonds in Utah,” released in November 2014.)

There is currently no indication that Utah would be downgraded from its stately AAA. However, any such eventuality is seen as a constraint to additional bonding. State debt is 25% higher than Utah State Treasurer Richard Ellis’ recommended level of $850 per capita (currently at $1,063, down from its 2012 peak of $1,221). To this point Moody’s Investor Service has stated that Utah’s “debt burden that has risen quickly to an above-average level.”

However, since an increase in debt service payments of $1.5 million is a grain of sand to Utah’s budget, the case for restricting bonding cannot be made solely on this point.


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