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Chancellor's Column - July 2004  

The Worst Kept Secret in Oklahoma

I’ve always thought that the value of higher education was, if not exactly a secret, at least not very well known. Well, I’m pleased to admit that I was wrong. We have recently conducted several surveys that give us a good sense of what Oklahomans think about higher education.

It turns out that well over 90 percent of parents with children in high school believe that a college education provides more career choices, helps graduates get better jobs and earn more money. They also believe that the number and location of Oklahoma colleges allows their children convenient access to higher education.

There is also good news about college’s affordability in our state. Our institutions are continuing to do a good job of keeping tuition and fees as low as possible. Once again, we are well under the limits set by the Legislature, and our tuition and fees are among the lowest in the region.

All of these factors have contributed to record enrollments at our colleges and universities, and we expect those enrollments to grow at least another 3 percent this fall. In fact, Oklahoma has moved up three spots among states with the highest percentage of its population who are enrolled in public higher education. According to a recent report, Oklahoma had 4.7 percent of its population enrolled in a state public college or university in fall 2001 (the latest year that complete national statistics were available). This places Oklahoma 14th in the nation, up from 17th last year.

So, the secret is out about the value of college. That’s good news.

Our surveys also show, however, that information about financial aid is not as widely known as it should be. And many families are concerned about their ability to pay for college.

Helping families afford college is a major priority to the state system of higher education, and we are devoting more than $127 million in state funding this year to financial aid scholarships, an increase of almost $16 million over last year. This includes an increase for the popular OHLAP scholarship program for Oklahoma’s working families, tuition waivers and other sources of financial assistance.

Our colleges are affordable and accessible. They offer a tremendous variety of degrees that prepare our students to meet the challenges of the future. The secret is out: college makes good sense. Pass it on.