OCCC students, as well as college and university students from all over the state, attended Higher Education Day at the Capitol on Feb. 11.
Students were able to attend the main session and were given the opportunity to meet with their senators.
The main focus of Higher Education Day was to address Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s recommended 5 percent decrease for higher education in the state budget for FY ’15.
The cut would take $49.4 million out of the budget, which would make the state budget for higher education $939.1 million.
Brian Bingman, president pro tempore of Oklahoma senate, said lawmakers are looking for a solution. “We’ve got a shortfall to overcome this year, which we will …,” Bingman said. “We’re doing everything we can to make sure funding is there.”
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education requested an increase in the budget by 7.7 percent, which would mean $76.3 million in new funds.
State Regents framed their budget request from the Complete College America initiative that was adopted as the top priority for the year. The goal of CCA is to increase certificate and degree earning numbers by 67 percent by the year 2023.
Oklahoma went above and beyond the year’s annual goal of 1,700 by increasing the number of degrees earned by 2,945 in FY ’13.
“Higher education will be one of the top priorities in the state government this year,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson, chief executive officer for the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.
Johnson said 87 percent of Oklahoma graduates have jobs here in the state. He said for every $1 invested into higher education, the state gets $4.72 of revenue.
Higher education creates more than 85,000 jobs, he said.
Sen. Clark Jolley, (R-Edmond) chair of the appropriations committee, said higher education has to be a priority.
“We cannot expect Oklahoma to succeed unless [students earn] the degrees to fill these jobs,” Jolley said.
Students from several colleges and universities were given the floor to voice their opinions.
“One thing that unites us all as Oklahomans is education, especially higher education,” said Blaine Boyd, Southwestern Oklahoma State University student.
OCCC students were just as vocal as the students who were given the opportunity to speak.
“I’m very interested in getting involved in … the political side of everything,” said Jessica Caddis, occupational therapy assistant and allied health major. However, Caddis said, meeting with her senator did not prove to be helpful.
“What I found very interesting is that it seems like … she didn’t even know what bills she had agreed on. It was very disappointing,” Caddis said.
Brenton Conrad, nursing major, said the progress the state has made regarding higher education is important.
“I don’t think we should be taking any steps back from what we’ve made,” Conrad said.
OCCC President Paul Sechrist attended the event. He said student voices do have an impact.
“This activity has the potential to make a significant difference,” Sechrist said.
“Legislators want to hear from people in the their districts. So, a personal visit can be powerful in impacting legislation and funding.”
For more information about the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education visit www.okhighered.org.
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