MAY 12, 2004

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Record enrollments test college resources

This spring, an estimated 28,000 students will receive their diplomas from public higher education institutions, and last fall, Oklahoma’s institutions welcomed the largest freshman class ever. Higher education enrollment is booming, putting higher education facilities and infrastructure to the test.

Higher education officials, faced with increasing enrollments throughout the system, have made funding the construction of expanded facilities a major priority. The Oklahoma Legislature is currently considering a capital bond issue (HJR 1039) that, if passed and signed by Gov. Brad Henry, would come to a vote of the people this fall.

One hundred and forty projects have been identified in 36 communities across the state. These include new and renovated classrooms; infrastructure expansions and upgrades; new or substantially renovated science and research buildings; and libraries and fine arts centers. The bond would also allow institutions to meet strict Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and other safety and access requirements.

The $500 million capital bond issue represents the first significant capital construction on most of Oklahoma’s public campuses in 12 years, and only the second major capital project in 35 years.

Many of the projects focus on science, technology, engineering and mathematics, all of which will prepare students to be successful in the changing economy.

“Our expanding enrollment is a classic ‘good news, bad news’ situation,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser. “Producing more college graduates attracts new businesses and builds strong communities. But sustaining that trend requires an investment of resources to be in place in order for Oklahoma’s colleges and universities to continue to meet the needs of a changing job market.”

Campuses all across the state have planned important construction projects that will help them better meet the needs of their students. Examples of how the construction will help campuses cope with increasing demands include:

• Well-paying health care jobs go unfilled while enrollment climbs, but class size is limited by the current facilities at Rose State College in Midwest City.

• Redlands Community College in El Reno can better meet the demand for skilled managers and entrepreneurs in agri-business and produce processing by upgrading its facilities.

• Southwestern Oklahoma State University, Weatherford, needs to expand its science classrooms and renovate part of the Old Science Building to meet changing laboratory needs.

• A high-demand program at the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma in Chickasha has outgrown a building that has not been renovated in 35 years. The Art Annex will provide improved facilities for classes whose graduates often go on to run successful arts and crafts businesses.

• Oklahoma Panhandle State University in Goodwell will become an even better regional provider of agriculture and science professionals with state-of-the-art laboratory facilities in a new Science and Agriculture building.

• Tulsa Community College science students are faced with severe scheduling problems that can be dealt with by significantly expanding laboratory space.

• Northwestern Oklahoma State University, Alva, will renovate its 40-year-old science building to increase student capacity and make it ADA accessible.

“Every campus will benefit, and the projects will add to the prosperity of their communities,” said Risser. “In fact, the construction projects are estimated to have an economic impact of more than $737 million statewide. Just as importantly, businesses looking to relocate in our state will see the commitment to these capital bond projects as an important indicator of progress in our state.”

Contact: Ben Hardcastle, 1-405-225-9346