When my parents and still-living-at-home younger siblings moved to Utah five and a half years ago, they opted to live in Cedar Hills. The choice meant they could afford a big house in a quiet neighborhood. They’re surrounded by a golf course, running trails, a brook and a lot of people very similar to them.
But more than anything else, they chose their new location for the schools; my sisters are currently attending Lone Peak High School, even though my dad has alternately worked in Provo and Salt Lake and my step-mom works out of the airport. In other words, they accepted long commutes so their kids could go to one of the best schools in the area.
A recent USA Today article explores a similar situation, but for the millennial generation (my generation), which is bigger and consequently more economically potent than even the baby boomers. The article mentions that cities have successfully lured young people to downtowns, but as that generation ages and has kids keeping them there will be a challenge. Most significantly, that’s because as people get older they start looking out for their kids’ education:
“This Millennial generation is the generation that decides where it’s going to live before it decides what it’s going to do,” says William Fulton, president of policy and research at Smart Growth America, a non-profit national coalition against suburban sprawl. “The stakes are very high. … There are two big quality-of-life things that become important when you have kids: schools and recreational activities.”
Provo has perhaps benefited less than other cities from the rush into downtowns — though that is changing now — but in any case the message is that the key to maintaining younger populations is having good schools and high quality of life. The article also mentions adequate family housing, walkability, and good transit as major selling points for young families. All of those things are common topics on this blog.
Provo is improving in many of these areas, but what about schools? Five years ago, my parents were able to look up Utah County and find figures telling them that Alpine School District was the best. Relatedly, while good news trickles out from Provo at least weekly about some new transit or housing development, public education is rarely talked about. Think about it, when was the last time you heard someone raving about how great Provo schools were? For me, the answer is never.
This situation is probably the result of fewer funds, insufficient PR — some Provo schools are great, after all, and sometimes they earn well-deserved recognition — and long-held perceptions about the area. But the fact remains that until Provo earns a reputation for a place with great education it will consistently struggle to compete for talent with surrounding cities.