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Chancellor's Column - April 2004  

More Than Just Buildings

There is much I enjoy about my job, and visiting campuses is certainly high on that list. In the last year or so, I have visited each of our institutions at least once and have spoken with hundreds of students, faculty and community leaders. Every campus has its own character and unique setting, but one thing that each institution has in common is the impact that it has on its community.

The economic impact is clear. All of our institutions are major employers in their communities, offering a wide range of jobs with good benefits. Local businesses provide goods and services to these employees and the institutions. They also have a well-educated workforce available to hire.

Colleges and universities also impact the quality of life in the community. For example, the auditorium at Carl Albert State College in Poteau hosts community theatre performances and a wide variety of conferences. At Seminole State College, more than 275 special events have been held at the Enoch Kelly Haney Center since August 2002. Redlands Community College in El Reno has hosted many community-sponsored forums and traveling art shows. The campus of Northwestern Oklahoma State University in Alva is used in a variety of ways, year round. Tulsa Community College also provides a variety of resources, including video conferences to the business community.

Each of our campuses has many partnerships with the community and contributes greatly to the local traditions and customs. For example, performing arts centers not only support students pursuing artistic majors, but all students and community members can participate in productions and events for recreation. Also, these facilities and events attract visitors.

This impact on local communities is one of the many reasons why the proposed higher education capital bond issue that is now being considered by the legislature is so important. This impact is even more profound when you consider the wide variety of projects that will enhance our profile as a state in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

There is no doubt that new and remodeled facilities are needed to better serve our students. In the past four years alone, system enrollment has increased by 20,000 students. And, there has not been significant capital construction at most of our public colleges since a bond issue was passed overwhelmingly in 1992.

But the benefits of a capital bond issue go beyond the campus.

According to Paul Abramson in his February 2004 Construction Report in College Planning & Management, “Higher education construction has established itself as a major economic engine in the U.S.” In Oklahoma, 140 individual projects in 36 communities throughout the state are proposed. They would result in nearly 4,000 additional construction jobs during the lifespan of the projects, in rural as well as urban areas, and have an economic impact of more than $737 million. And, after completion, the libraries, fine arts centers and other facilities will be an integral part of the community.

A commitment to this bond issue would be a clear message to those who make decisions about business relocation, that our state and communities are serious about supporting higher education. And, with improved facilities, we will be better able to prepare our young people for the highly competitive job market. A better-educated workforce attracts new businesses, helps existing ones and builds stronger communities.