Chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education Dr. Glen D. Johnson Jr. spoke at the Woodward Chamber of Commerce luncheon on Monday about the value of higher education.
“If you just look at the data, you look at the workforce, you look at the needs in this knowledge based economy, earning a college degree has never been more important than it is today,” Johnson said. “There is almost a complete relationship or correlation between the number of college degrees in a state, the strength of the state's economy and the importance of having college degrees to having higher per capita incomes.”
According to the data Johnson shared, 67 percent of jobs in Oklahoma require some college, a long term certification or an associate’s degree. Jobs requiring an associates degree, bachelor’s degree or higher is 37 percent.
Almost nine out of ten Oklahoma college graduates find jobs and remain in Oklahoma. Linking job opportunities to what businesses need has been a priority, creating internships and hopefully job opportunities when the students graduate, according to Johnson.
Some of the academic programs linked to the needs of Oklahoma businesses are in healthcare, engineering, business, technology, telecommunications, data science and analytics.
“As we look at the value of a college degree, the raw data sometimes tells a great story,” Johnson explained. “All of the information tells us that the those with college degrees are more engaged as citizens, they are more active in their communities, they are healthier, and vote more.”
There are currently over 40,000 students in regional institutions throughout Oklahoma who will graduate with a degree, according to Johnson. Many of those are adult students, some who served in the military and are returning to college to continue their education.
“It's incumbent on us to provide them the outlet and the resources,” Johnson said. “Recognizing their needs are different than a high school senior going directly to college.”
The “Complete College America” Oklahoma plan is being implemented because the U.S. has dropped from 1st in percent of degree completion to 19th in the last two decades. This five point plan includes a focus on college readiness, to transform remediation, strengthen pathways to college degrees and certificates, reward performance and increase adult degree completion.
“Certainly one of our signature programs is Oklahoma’s Promise,” Johnson said.
For students who meet the criteria, Oklahoma's Promise provides an opportunity for them earn a scholarship from the state of Oklahoma to pay their college tuition. Since 1992, almost 90,000 students have taken advantage of this opportunity, according to Johnson.
Over 13,000 high school students participated in concurrent enrollment in 2018/2019 accomplishing approximately 122,000 college credit hours.
At the end of the presentation, Woodward Public Schools Superintendent Kyle Reynolds, Northwestern Oklahoma State University Dean Dr. Deena Fisher and High Plains Technology Center Representative Don Gaines each introduced members of their staff and some of their students.
“I would love to take one minute and say how much we appreciate our partners in education,” Reynolds directed toward Gaines and Fisher. “The longer I'm in this role, the more I find out about how things work in other parts of the state, the partnership and the public support between higher ed, common ed and CareerTech, their leadership is just a huge factor.”