According to its director at WSU, Colt Jarvis, the main objective of Deliberative Democracy Day is to engage students in controversial political topics by giving them facts and an opportunity to discuss their opinions with others.
At the beginning of the event, students completed a survey in which they indicated their opinions on minimum wage. Afterwards, they were separated into small groups where they could discuss their attitudes and come up with a question for the experts on the panel.
“I really feel like I learned something in these discussions, and actually my attitude about minimum wage has changed,” said Chris Summers, a business administration student who attended Deliberative Democracy Day as an extra credit opportunity for a class.
The panel featured three experts, all from the public sector of the economy. They did not know students’ questions beforehand.
Mark Knold of the Department of Workforce Services emphasized that minimum wage increases usually occur in times of economic prosperity. “If you look back at past minimum wage increases, you really see no effect,” he said.
According to Knold, less than 4 percent of all employees in Utah receive minimum wage or less, most of whom are under 25 years old and work in the service sector. Tom Christopulos, who manages the community and economic development of Ogden city, agreed and noted that last year all of Ogden’s over 1,500 new employees were hired above minimum wage.
Besides purely economic factors, all three experts also agreed that education plays an important role in overcoming poverty.
“We need to get more people through the education pipeline,” said WSU Provost Michael Vaughan. According to him, high cost is one of the main reasons why high school graduates choose not to enroll in colleges or universities.
Making reference to national government plans to offer two-year degrees for free in the future, Vaughan advised against too much excitement.
“While this could be a good way of breaking down mental barriers in undecided high school graduates, the program would only feature a small percentage of schools,” Vaughan said.
As a primarily four-year institution, WSU is not one of those schools.
Christopulos, unlike the two other panelists, said he saw little need for change in the current educational system.
“You as students are making the wrong choices in your education,” he said, noting that employers are most interested in graduates who do not need much skill training on the job.
The American Democracy Project (ADP), the national organization that puts on Deliberative Democracy Day once a year, is specifically established to teach students such skills, according to Leadership Vice President Marissa Questereit. This includes communicating their ideas.
Nicole Walker, a communications student who facilitated one of the discussion groups, said that the event was a good opportunity for her to learn something she didn’t know much about.
According to Bahar Alimadadi, the ADP marketing director, this kind of increased awareness in students makes the months of planning for the event worth it.