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Students and personnel from Oklahoma’s state system institutions gathered at the state Capitol today to demonstrate the value and importance of higher education in the state.

Speakers included Dr. Brandon Tatum, Chief of Staff for Governor Kevin Stitt; Speaker Charles McCall; Rep. Anthony Moore; Sen. Adam Pugh; State Regents chair Michael C. Turpen; and Chancellor Allison D. Garrett.

“Students, faculty and staff from Oklahoma‚Äôs public colleges and universities came together today at our State Capitol to highlight the value of a college degree,” said Garrett. “Over half of the top 100 occupations identified by Oklahoma Works as critical to economic growth in our state will require an associate degree or higher, including the top 29 highest paying jobs. Bachelor‚Äôs and associate degree holders earn 75% more and 25% more, respectively, than those with only a high school diploma. Investing in higher education drives economic opportunity for individual Oklahomans and attracts high-wage employers, which creates vibrant communities across our state.”

Three students also spoke at the event. Alex Robinson, Murray State College; Rio Bonham, Oklahoma State University; and Robert “Beto” Tafoya-Acosta, Southwestern Oklahoma State University shared how pursuing higher education at Oklahoma‚Äôs public college and universities has positively impacted their lives.

During a legislative reception, the following recipients of the Distinguished Service Award for Higher Education were recognized for their steadfast leadership and support of public higher education during the 2022 legislative session:

  • Sen. John Haste
  • Sen. Lonnie Paxton
  • Sen. Dewayne Pemberton
  • Sen. Brenda Stanley
  • Sen. George Young
  • Rep. Rhonda Baker
  • Rep. Regina Goodwin
  • Rep. Toni Hasenbeck
  • Rep. Mark McBride
  • Rep. Daniel Pae
  • Rep. Trish Ranson

The Distinguished Service Award for Higher Education is the highest award presented by the State Regents and the Council of College and University Presidents.

While bachelor’s degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) disciplines increased 47% and health professions degrees increased more than 26% over the last decade, shortages persist in these sectors. For FY24, the State Regents request $26.3 million for critical workforce development initiatives, including funds to expand nursing education program and medical residency capacity to address the state’s shortage of Registered Nurses and physicians; support institutional efforts to increase enrollment and graduation in STEM disciplines; and continue providing scholarships for adult students nearing completion of a college degree or pursuing an industry-recognized micro-credential or certificate.

The state system of higher education budget request includes $23 million to fund the Oklahoma National Guard Educational Assistance Program, the Oklahoma Future Teacher Scholarship and Employment Incentive Program (“Inspired to Teach”), and the Concurrent Enrollment Tuition Waiver program.

The State Regents request $49.3 million in FY24 to fund performance-based institutional allocations to address operational support needs; strengthen college access and academic success services for students; fund strategic collaborations, shared services, and educational resources that drive long-term efficiencies across the state system; and continue investments in data analytics, digital transformation, and cybersecurity. The budget request also includes capital funding for system and structure upgrades to enhance campus safety and security.

The State Regents request a FY23 supplemental appropriation of $9 million to fund the Oklahoma National Guard Educational Assistance Program, established by SB 1418 during the 2022 legislative session. While the annualized cost to deliver the program is reflected in public higher education’s FY24 budget request, supplemental funds are needed to reimburse state system institutions for costs incurred during the 2022-23 academic year.

Additional priorities for the State Regents in the legislative session include universal completion of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for high school seniors, which has spurred college enrollment increases in other states, and maintaining the current law pertaining to weapons on higher education campuses. Oklahoma higher education supports the Second Amendment. Under current law, campus presidents have the discretion to determine who may carry weapons on a college or university campus. 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.

Refinements to the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program are also a priority. The State Regents’ goals include streamlining high school course requirements for scholarship eligibility, an adjustable formula for income limits each year to increase flexibility for eligible students and families, and an appeal process to assist students facing unique circumstances.

Recognized by the Southern Regional Education Board as one of the top promise scholarship programs in the nation, Oklahoma‚Äôs Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. More than 100,000 students have earned college tuition scholarships through Oklahoma‚Äôs Promise since the program‚Äôs inception. For more information about Oklahoma‚Äôs Promise or to apply online, visit www.okpromise.org