Oklahoma college students, faculty and staff urged Oklahoma lawmakers to support local colleges and universities during Higher Education Day at the state Capitol, this week.
The goal of the event was to raise lawmakers’ awareness of the problems faced by the state’s higher education system.
“Today, more than 300 students from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities, as well as members of our statewide campus community, met with legislators to underscore the importance of restoring funding for higher education,” said State Chancellor of Higher Education Glen D. Johnson. “We believe that higher education is the best investment in Oklahoma’s economic future. The State Regents’ Task Force on the Future of Higher Education has affirmed that we must remain focused on increasing college degree completion in our state.”
The State Regents annual report showed from that 2006-2007 to 2015-2016, six-year graduation rates (within the state) for new freshmen increased from 62.6 percent to 68.2 percent at research universities and decreased from 36.8 percent to 35.8 percent at regional universities.
At community colleges, three-year graduation rates (within the state) for new freshmen increased from 19.8 percent to 23.0 percent.
The report showed more than 36,000 were earned at the end of the 2016 semester, with more than 6,700 students receiving degrees and certificates in STEM fields.
The regents requested $901.9 million for the next fiscal year, a 16.6 percent increase from last year.
Increased financial aid funding will also be a priority for the State Regents in the upcoming legislative session. The State Regents are seeking $18.4 million to restore scholarship programs, including Academic Scholars, the National Guard waiver, and the Regional University Baccalaureate Scholarship.
The University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz said “There isn’t an institution in this state that’s going to be able to accomplish its goals in isolation from one another and so there’s a broad statement of collaboration that you find throughout the document.”
Betz said in this new fiscal year legislators and schools officials have to push for a new initiative.
The Task Force for the Future of Higher Education’s report showed in Oklahoma showed despite an increase in graduation rates, funding has dwindled over time.
The report said in addition to the changing student demographics of colleges and universities, Oklahoma’s state system colleges and universities have experienced significant cuts in state appropriations, declining approximately 22 percent over the last three years. For FY2017, the Oklahoma state system of higher education received $805.5 million in state appropriations, representing a $157.5 million decrease since 2016.
After months of special session the Oklahoma Legislature has yet to pass any major funding for higher education, and failed to pass legislation to increase k-12th grade teacher pay.
President steward along with other school officials pushed for legislators to make a call on legislative funding, putting partisanship aside.
Higher education is more important to Oklahoma’s future than it has ever been,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “Increasing the number of college graduates in our state is essential to building a globally competitive workforce and a strong state economy. We remain committed to accessibility, affordability, and academic quality and to increasing degree completion in our state system of higher education.
Johnson said, “the task force has successfully translated diverse viewpoints into a set of very specific recommendations. These recommendations, which merit serious consideration by the Legislature, will guide our efforts to continue advancing higher education in this fiscally challenging environment.”