Students, faculty and representatives from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to promote the value and importance of higher education in the state.

Speakers included Gov. Mary Fallin; Sen. Roger Thompson; Rep. Jadine Nollan; State Regents chair Ronald H. White, M.D.; State Regent Gen. Toney Stricklin; State Regent Jeffrey W. Hickman; Chancellor Glen D. Johnson; and President Jerry Steward, Oklahoma City Community College.

‚ÄúToday, more than 300 students from Oklahoma‚Äôs public colleges and universities, as well as members of our statewide campus community, met with legislators to underscore the importance of restoring funding for higher education,‚ÄĚ said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. ‚ÄúWe believe that higher education is the best investment in Oklahoma‚Äôs economic future. The State Regents‚Äô Task Force on the Future of Higher Education has affirmed that we must remain focused on increasing college degree completion in our state.‚ÄĚ

Four students also spoke at the event. Nikoma Early, Western Oklahoma State College; Erica Stephens, Oklahoma State University; Kalen Russell, University of Central Oklahoma; and Yaseen Shurbaj, University of Oklahoma, told attendees how they have benefitted from higher education and how attending one of Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities has positively impacted their lives.

For FY 2019, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have requested $901.9 million, which reflects an increase of $128 million or 16.6 percent over the FY 2018 appropriation of $773.6 million.

Strengthening Oklahoma’s workforce pipeline through the Complete College America degree and certificate completion plan continues to be the state system of higher education’s top priority. The State Regents are requesting $107 million for degree completion programs and initiatives. This investment will provide state colleges and universities funding to meet instruction and academic enterprise requirements and for institutional scholarships.

Increased financial aid funding will also be a priority for the State Regents in the upcoming legislative session. The State Regents are seeking $18.4 million to restore scholarship programs, including Academic Scholars, the National Guard waiver, and the Regional University Baccalaureate Scholarship. The request will also fully fund the concurrent enrollment program, which provides tuition waivers to high school seniors who enroll in college coursework during their senior year. The State Regents are seeking $2.9 million to restore shared service programs provided in support of the colleges and universities, including database fees, subscriptions, legal services, and federal health and safety resources.

Another area of focus during the legislative session will be maintaining current law regarding weapons on higher education campuses. Oklahoma higher education does not oppose the Second Amendment or gun ownership. Under current law, campus presidents have the discretion to grant exceptions to the weapons ban when an exception is warranted. The State Regents and the presidents of all 25 state system institutions strongly believe that expanding authorization to carry weapons on higher education campuses would create a more dangerous environment for our students, faculty, staff and visitors.

The State Regents will also continue efforts to preserve the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship as an access program. Recognized by many as America’s best college access program, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. More than 80,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma’s Promise since the program’s inception in 1992.