President says state is ‘falling behind in college graduation’

Chris James/Pioneer
OCCC student Joshua Swain gets information from Student Life Director Erin Logan and Student Life Assistant Director Amy Reynolds on Higher Education Day at the Oklahoma State Capitol on Feb. 21.

“As a state and as a nation, we’re falling behind in college graduation,” said OCCC President Paul Sechrist, in a Feb. 21 speech at Oklahoma Higher Education Day.

Sechrist is chair of Council of Presidents, a group consisting of 2- and 4-year Oklahoma college presidents.

Students, faculty and staff from several colleges around the state descended on the State Capitol last Tuesday in a show of support for higher learning — a necessary effort, Sechrist said.

“It’s not that we’re doing badly. It’s that the rest of the world has stepped up,” he said.

Sechrist said while he’s proud of the gains in higher education in Oklahoma, he believes there is room for improvement.

Jerry Steward, OCCC executive vice president, agrees and said that improvement can be aided by talking to legislators.

Steward said Higher Education Day is an great opportunity for students and colleges “to come to the State Capitol and visit with their legislators to emphasize the importance of higher education to the citizens and economy of Oklahoma.”

That importance may have slipped the minds of many legislators, said Mary Newcome-Hatch, OCCC business major.

Newcome-Hatch said she believes education in all forms has “been taking second seat for years.

“If education was in higher standing with our government, our government would be in higher standing with its citizens,” she said.

Legislators were quick to point out that they do hold education in high esteem during an hour-long presentation by legislators, students and college officials.

In his speech, Oklahoma Lt. Gov. Todd Lamb said he believes higher education is a vital component of a growing state economy.

“As a state, we’re about to undergo a renaissance,” Lamb said.

“So when you finish your education, stay here.

“Use your training, your degree, here in Oklahoma.”

Newcome-Hatch said for that to happen, students have to become more involved.

“We have to be active in fighting for what is right, in fighting for our rights. We as students should not be submissive to (politicians.)

“We shouldn’t just roll over while they ‘do what they gotta do’ while we ignore what they’re doing.”

To contact Jeremy Cloud, email

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