NOVEMBER 17, 2004

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State Regents will present updated project list to lawmakers

Record enrollments on Oklahoma’s public college campuses are putting a severe burden on overcrowded and outdated facilities. Oklahoma higher education officials believe that a recent update of capital improvement projects from the state’s public colleges and universities addresses the most important needs and that the passage of a $500 million bond issue by the state Legislature in the next session will be vital for the future of the state.

“When businesses consider moving or expanding, the state’s commitment to higher education is an important deciding factor,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “A $500 million investment in our colleges and universities is a clear signal that Oklahoma is ready to meet the education needs of the new century. This would provide an incredible boost to the economy, both short and long term.”

The State Regents recently approved an updated list of 141 projects in 36 communities across the state that would receive funding from the capital bond issue. The projects 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.

If approved by legislators, the bond issue would be the only significant capital funding infusion that Oklahoma’s public college and universities have seen since other bond issues were passed in 1967 and 1992.

Another bond issue passed by state lawmakers in 2000 would have provided about $30 million for capital projects within the state system, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually ruled that bill unconstitutional.

Risser said that unlike the 2000 bond issue that included funding for just a handful of institutions, the proposed bond issue would include at least one project for each of the state’s 25 public colleges and universities. He said estimates show that the various projects around the state could add approximately 4,000 construction jobs in Oklahoma and result in an economic impact of more than $737 million statewide.

Oklahoma Gov. Brad Henry, legislative leaders and higher education officials discussed the possibility of approving a higher education bond issue last spring but could not come to an agreement. Gov. Henry and state lawmakers have indicated that they would make passing a capital bond issue for Oklahoma higher education a top priority during the 2004 legislative session.

“It’s crunch time for our colleges and universities,” State Regents’ Chairman Jimmy Harrel said. “It’s been a long while since they’ve seen some significant funding to pay for much-needed capital improvements on their campuses, and it’s beginning to show. However, we are hopeful that through upcoming discussions with the governor and legislative leaders, we can all come to a consensus on the importance of a $500 million bond issue for higher education.”

(A complete list of the capital bond projects is available online at www.okhighered.org/capital-bond.)

Contact: Ben Hardcastle, State Regents' communications director, 1.405.225.9346