MARCH 10, 2004

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Continued record higher ed enrollment creates challenges

The total number of students on Oklahoma’s public college campuses is up 2.6 percent this spring compared with spring 2003, according to the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. A total of 169,694 students have enrolled in classes, the highest total spring enrollment ever for the state system. This follows on the heels of a record enrollment last fall.

The State Regents released the information as part of the “Spring 2004 Preliminary Enrollment Report for Oklahoma Higher Education.”

“Obviously, our public colleges and universities are continuing to do a great job of attracting students,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser. “Two semesters in a row we have seen higher enrollments, and the increases are coming from the comprehensive and regional universities as well as the two-year colleges.”

An increase at the two-year level is expected during difficult economic times as workers seek retraining or associate degrees to enhance their employability. Sustained increases at all levels, particularly after last year’s tuition increases, present a classic “good news, bad news” situation for higher education officials.

“Our challenge now is to have the resources we need to meet this growing demand,” Risser said. “Our current funding level is roughly the same as it was four years ago, yet we have about 20,000 more students on campus. That puts a major strain on our institutions.”

The preliminary report, which contains enrollment data collected approximately two weeks after the spring semester began, shows that the state’s two-year colleges again had the largest percentage increase at 3.8 percent in total headcount. Northern Oklahoma College, Tonkawa; Carl Albert State College, Poteau; and Redlands Community College, El Reno, lead the way with increases of 24.7 percent, 11.4 and 11.3 percent, respectively.

Of the regional universities, Rogers State University, Claremore, increased enrollment by 7.8 percent, while Cameron University, Lawton, and Northeastern State University, Tahlequah, increased by 3.6 and 3.5 percent, respectively. The total increase among all regional universities was 1.7 percent.

The state’s comprehensive universities are experiencing an enrollment jump of 2.2 percent in total headcount compared to last spring.

State Regents Chairman Ike Glass said State Regents’ student preparation programs, such as GEAR UP, the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) and the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) are continuing to contribute to the enrollment increases, as are the institutions’ own retention efforts.

“We’ve all been working hard to get more students in our colleges, and it seems to be really paying off,” Glass said. “Student preparation and good financial aid programs can really make a difference, and we need to see all of that continue.”

Contact: Ben Hardcastle, 1-405-225-9246