Students from Oklahoma’s state system institutions and members of the statewide campus community gathered at the state Capitol Tuesday to promote the value and importance of higher education in the state.
Speakers included Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell; Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat; House Majority Floor Leader Jon Echols; Rep. Jadine Nollan; State Regents vice chair Ann Holloway; Chancellor Glen D. Johnson; and President Jeanie Webb, Rose State College.
“We thank our students, faculty and staff from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities for meeting with the lieutenant governor and Senate and House members at our State Capitol today to highlight the value of a college degree and to emphasize public higher education’s essential role in addressing Oklahoma’s current and future workforce needs,” said Chancellor Glen D. Johnson. “We look forward to working with Governor Stitt and the Legislature during this legislative session to demonstrate that higher education’s budget request is critical to strengthening our state’s economy and workforce.”
Four students also spoke at the event. Ruth Herman, East Central University; Kimberly Cotter, Seminole State College; Natanya Hernandez, Southwestern Oklahoma State University; and Casandra Salinas, Oklahoma State University shared how higher education at Oklahoma’s public college and universities has positively impacted their lives.
For FY 2021, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education have requested $927.1 million, which reflects an increase of $125 million or 15.6% over the FY 2020 appropriation of $802.1 million.
The State Regents are requesting $50.2 million for STEM workforce development initiatives, including funds to help meet engineering and nursing workforce needs and double the number of physician residency slots in the state.
In addition, the State Regents are requesting $50 million for operational cost increases, including restoration of the National Guard Waiver and Teacher Shortage Employment Incentive Program scholarship programs and a 3.5% increase in faculty salaries to continue efforts to preserve quality academic instruction. The most recent national rankings from the Southern Regional Education Board list Oklahoma as 45th in the average faculty salary and show that average faculty salaries in Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities are more than 15% below other states.
Requests to fund deferred maintenance for campus infrastructure ($5.8 million), for full funding of the concurrent enrollment program for high school juniors ($7 million), and to provide endowed chair state matching funds bond authorization and debt service ($12 million) are also priorities.
Strengthening Oklahoma’s workforce pipeline through the Complete College America degree and certificate completion plan continues to be a top state system priority. The state’s public and private institutions and career technology centers work collaboratively to reach the state’s goal of increasing the number of degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 67% by 2023.
Another area of focus in the upcoming legislative session will be to maintain the current law regarding weapons on higher education campuses. Oklahoma higher education supports the second amendment and gun ownership. Under current law, campus presidents have the discretion to permit the carrying of weapons when an exception is warranted. The State Regents and the presidents of all 25 state system institutions strongly believe that the current law with regard to weapons on campus is working.
The State Regents will also continue efforts to protect the dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Recognized as one of the top five promise scholarship programs in the nation, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. Nearly 90,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma’s Promise since the program’s inception in 1992.
Photo of Higher Ed Day at the Capitol (JPG, 922k)