Increasing college degree completion to address Oklahoma’s current and future workforce needs remains a top priority for the state system of higher education. That was the message delivered recently by Chancellor Glen D. Johnson as he presented the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education’s budget request and legislative agenda for the 2021 legislative session during five regional virtual legislative events hosted by our public colleges and universities across Oklahoma. Participants in these events included lawmakers, community leaders and higher education regents and presidents, with legislators having the opportunity to comment on higher education’s budget needs and legislative agenda.

The State Regents voted in November to request $859.2 million for FY 2022, which reflects an increase of $88.8 million or 11.5% over the FY 2021 appropriation of $770.4 million.

“As we continue working to implement the recommendations of the Task Force on the Future of Higher Education, we are focused on expanding workforce development initiatives, implementing strategic innovations to further enhance academic offerings, and fully funding the cost of concurrent enrollment tuition waivers for eligible high school seniors and juniors,” said Johnson. “Our funding request for FY 2022 clearly demonstrates our commitment to meeting Oklahoma’s workforce needs and reflects the necessity of additional investment in several critical areas.”

The State Regents are requesting $33.8 million for STEM workforce development initiatives, including funds to help meet engineering, nursing, and teacher education workforce needs, increase the number of physician residency slots in the state, and develop microcredentials and rapid re-employment strategies.

Requests to restore financial aid and scholarship programs ($9.8 million), to fully fund the concurrent enrollment program for high school seniors and juniors ($4 million), and to provide endowed chair state matching funds bond authorization and debt service ($10.4 million) are also top priorities in the budget request.

In addition, the State Regents are requesting $30.8 million for operational cost increases, including systemwide mandatory fixed costs, Section 13 Offset deferred maintenance for campus infrastructure improvements, and funds to support STEM Summer Academies.

Another state system priority 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 authorize who may carry weapons on campus when the individual circumstances warrant it. 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 preserve the dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Recognized by the Southern Regional Education Board as one of the top college access scholarship programs in the nation, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. More than 95,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma’s Promise since the program’s inception in 1992.