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Chancellor's Column - January 2005  

Ending the Crisis on Campus

As I begin my third year as chancellor, I am pleased to report that our public colleges and universities continue to experience record enrollments and now serve more than 235,000 students annually. We can be proud of the excellent instruction in our college classrooms and the hard-working students who are preparing to meet the challenges of the workplace, despite the fact that our campus facilities often do not measure up to the needs of the students.

Many of our aging college buildings are crumbling because of a chronic lack of funding for needed renovations. Our students are doing their learning in classroom buildings and labs that are crowded and decades out of date. There is a crisis on many of our campuses, and it will only get worse if we don’t act now.

On many campuses, basic functions like heating and cooling are often antiquated and inefficient. Needed classroom space and even entire buildings are left unused because they urgently need renovation to meet modern safety codes and access requirements.

The presidents of all state system institutions have worked together to develop a project list that totals $500 million. The projects represent only the most pressing needs and will improve instruction in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, disciplines of great importance in today’s economy. Without a significant investment in the facilities to improve high-tech learning, we can expect to slip behind other states in the competition for better-paying jobs.

When businesses consider moving to Oklahoma or our own businesses consider expanding, the state’s commitment to higher education is an important deciding factor. An investment in our colleges and universities is a clear and unmistakable signal that Oklahoma is ready to meet the education needs of the new century, and it will place us in a position to attract companies and new jobs.

While a few campuses have managed a small number of projects using private donations and grants, most have not had a significant capital construction project in at least 12 years. And, surprisingly, there have been only two capital bond issues for higher education since statehood!

Fortunately, Gov. Brad Henry and legislative leaders are supporting the passage of a $500 million capital bond project, using some of the proceeds from the education lottery that was passed last November. Every region of the state will see the benefits of this investment.

One hundred forty individual projects in 36 communities throughout the state have been identified. They would result in nearly 4,000 additional construction jobs during the lifespan of the project, in rural as well as urban areas, and have an economic impact of more than $737 million.

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.