Fourteen Oklahoma legislators are recognized by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the Council of College and University Presidents as recipients of 2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education. The awards are conferred in the following categories: Chair of the Year; Outstanding Legislation; American Rescue Plan Act(ARPA) Funding Architects; Budget Leadership; Champions of Promise; and Rising Stars.

“These legislative leaders are dedicated to advancing Oklahoma’s higher education system and the students we serve,” said State Regents Chair Jack Sherry. “We value our collaborative relationships with legislators and deeply appreciate their investment in our shared goal to meet current and future workforce needs and help individual Oklahomans achieve their dreams.”

2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education: Chair of the Year

Rep. Anthony Moore and Sen. Adam Pugh received Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education for their work as Chair of the House Higher Education and Career Technology Committee and Chair of the Senate Education Committee, respectively.

“We are honored to recognize Rep. Moore and Sen. Pugh for their ongoing commitment to elevating public higher education,” said Chancellor Allison D. Garrett. “As co-author of SB 93, Rep. Moore’s advocacy was crucial to our efforts to establish universal Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) completion. We are grateful to Sen. Pugh for his tireless work in support of our state system as Senate Education Committee chair.”

“I’m incredibly honored to be named Chair of the Year by the Board of Regents and Presidents,” Moore said. “The integral work being done across the state by our colleges and universities is the foundation on which our future will rely. As such, it’s vital we invest heavily in that foundation to ensure Oklahoma not only succeeds, but thrives in the decades to come!”

“It is a humbling and distinct honor to be recognized with this award,” said Pugh. “A thriving higher education system is vital to a vibrant workforce, job creation, business attainment and the overall stability of our economic future. While I am proud to stand and accept this award, our work is not done. I am committed to working with the Oklahoma State Regents on future developments to build on these accomplishments to make Oklahoma the best place in the nation for people to raise a family.”

2023 Distinguished Service Award for Higher Education: Outstanding Legislation

Sen. Dave Rader received the Distinguished Service Award for Higher Education for his work as co-author of SB 93, the universal FAFSA bill, which passed both chambers and was signed by Gov. Stitt during the 2023 session.

“Given our persistently low FAFSA completion rates, Oklahoma leaves approximately $63 million on the table each year in untapped federal financial aid,” said Garrett. “We are honored to recognize Sen. Rader for his unwavering support of universal FAFSA completion, which will empower more Oklahoma students to access federal aid and earn college degrees.”

“Thank you for this award. I am both humbled and honored,” Rader said. “Education is the utmost priority and higher education is fundamental to our efforts to diversify our economy, expand opportunity for our citizens, and move our entire state forward.”

2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education: ARPA Funding Architects

Rep. Kyle Hilbert and Sen. Chuck Hall received Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education for their service to Oklahoma and public higher education through development of the ARPA allocation process. ARPA, signed into law in March 2021, provides funding for state and local governments to facilitate economic recovery from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As a direct result of the leadership demonstrated by Rep. Hilbert and Sen. Hall, our public colleges and universities received ARPA fund investments to build capacity in critical fields like nursing, optometry, healthcare, and teacher education,” said Garrett. “Increasing our educated workforce in these key occupations positions Oklahoma to meet the demands of growing industries, attract new businesses, and upgrade our citizens’ earning potential.”

“The first thing we did upon receiving ARPA funds was hold public hearings to know what the biggest needs in the state were,” Hilbert said. “What we heard repeatedly was ‘workforce, workforce, workforce.’ We made it our mission to strategically invest a portion of these one-time dollars into postsecondary programs that will truly move the needle for workforce in our state.”

“I’m honored to have been selected as a recipient of the ‘Architect of ARPA’ award from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education,” said Hall. “I’m proud of our work and grateful to Pro Tem Treat for putting his confidence and trust in me. However, we couldn’t have accomplished what we did without the bicameral-bipartisan efforts of my peers. Through it all, Oklahoma has become a model state for the development, implementation and dissemination of ARPA dollars. I’ve enjoyed the front row seat to what will be remembered as a point in time that had a positive generational impact on our great state.”

2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education: Budget Leadership

Sen. Roger Thompson, Rep. Kevin Wallace, and Rep. Ryan Martinez received Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education for their work on the state budget, which included essential investments in Oklahoma’s 25 public colleges and universities.

“The State Regents approved $121.4 million in state appropriations for FY24, representing a 13.8% increased investment by legislators and the governor over FY23,” said Garrett. “We sincerely thank Sen. Thompson, Rep. Wallace and Rep. Martinez for their dedication to investing in Oklahoma students – funding that will drive the state system of higher education’s progress to address the priorities outlined in our new strategic plan, Blueprint 2030.”

“I am committed to continuing working with higher education to develop a relevant and productive workforce for the state of Oklahoma,” Thompson said. “In my role as Senate appropriations chair, we believe these investments will impact Oklahoma’s students positively and build a better state prepared for the future.”

“Making sure the next generation of Oklahomans is fully trained and equipped for existing and emerging careers is a top priority for the Oklahoma Legislature,” said Wallace. “We know that this enhances not only the lives of these young people, but it leads to better communities, a robust economy and a stronger state overall. As chair of the House Appropriations and Budget Committee, it is my honor to ensure the needs of our state’s higher education institutions are met as they are tasked with preparing our young people for their futures. I’m honored to be recognized for my efforts.”

“Education always receives the largest share of state appropriated dollars, as I and fellow lawmakers realize the importance of preparing our younger generation for the challenges of life in society and their future jobs,” Martinez said. “It’s an honor to be recognized for my work in helping to secure historic increases for both common and higher education this year. I’m grateful for the work our educators do, and I’m happy to play a role in improving our colleges and universities so all students can learn and thrive.”

2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education: Champions of Promise

Oklahoma’s Promise is widely recognized as one of the premier college access programs in the nation. Rep. Cyndi Munson, former Sen. John Michael Montgomery, and Director of the Oklahoma Legislative Office of Fiscal Transparency Mike Jackson received Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education for their steadfast support of the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship program. Each has engaged with students across the state to share personal messages as Oklahoma’s Promise alumni.

“We are honored to recognize Rep. Munson, Mr. Montgomery, and Mr. Jackson as Oklahoma’s Promise champions,” said Garrett. “Their stories demonstrating the scholarship’s transformational impact continue to inspire students to pursue higher education and demonstrate the value of Oklahoma’s Promise as an investment in our state’s future workforce.”

“As a recipient of an Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship, I know firsthand how life-changing this program is, and I remain committed to working to ensure as many Oklahoma students as possible are afforded the same opportunity,” Munson said.

“The Oklahoma Promise program changed my life and career; as part of the first class to ever receive the scholarship award, it gave me a path forward in my educational journey and expanded my horizons,” said Jackson. “As someone who grew up in rural Oklahoma, I recognize the statewide reach of this program in providing an opportunity to students who would not otherwise have them.”

2023 Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education: Rising Stars

Three legislators received Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education as “Rising Stars:” Sen. Ally Seifried, Sen. Brent Howard, and Rep. Steve Bashore. Each worked diligently on significant legislation and emphasized the importance of statewide access to higher education for Oklahoma students to provide the labor force needed in both urban and rural communities.

“Sen. Seifried carried legislation requiring private and out-of-state degree-granting institutions operating in Oklahoma to meet the same standards of academic quality and fiscal responsibility required for state system institutions. She is a remarkable advocate for public higher education,” said Garrett. “Sen. Howard remains a consistent proponent of higher education and authored SB 457 to increase broadband infrastructure and access in rural areas, which leads to increased job and population growth, higher property values, and higher rates of new business formation. Since his election and in his role as vice chair of the House Appropriations & Budget Subcommittee for Finance – Revenue and Taxation, Rep. Bashore has been a strong voice for continued investment in higher education.”

“It is an honor to receive this award. I believe in the value of a higher education, and I view it as a critical element to the future success of our state and nation,” Seifried said. “An educated, skilled workforce will also make Oklahoma a more attractive place for business expansion and development. My husband and I met in college and attribute many of our successes throughout the course of our professional lives to our education. I am proud to serve as the vice chair of the Senate Education Committee and will continue to work to ensure our students have the best opportunities possible.”

“I am honored to once again receive recognition from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education,” said Howard. “I believe higher education within our state is an important step within our rural communities to be able to train and retain young individuals for our future.”

“One of my top priorities as a legislator is to ensure that every young person in our state has the appropriate training and preparation to rise to their highest level of achievement not only in school, but in their chosen career paths,” Bashore said. “This benefits not only our youth, but all of Oklahoma. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education do a monumental job in their mission of educating and training Oklahomans so they are life- and work-ready. I am truly pleased to be recognized for my work in helping this fine agency achieve its goals.”

The Distinguished Service Awards for Higher Education recognize individuals who demonstrate extraordinary leadership and support of Oklahoma higher education during the legislative session. It is the highest award presented by the State Regents and the Council of College and University Presidents.