Education officials say reforms needed
Everyone agrees education beyond high school is critical for the individual and Oklahoma’s economy, but the future of postsecondary education in the state is anything but certain.
National trends in 2018 include a big focus on career and technology education, Jeremy Anderson said at Gov. Mary Fallin’s recent STEM and Entrepreneurship Summit.
“This is an area where we have seen an explosion of new policies and activities in the states,” said Anderson, president of the Education Commission of the States.
“It’s one of the biggest issues. We’re seeing states rethink where are we going to be investing our funds and our time and our energy ... to really meet the workforce needs that you are seeing across the county.”
Oklahoma’s list of 100 critical occupation includes many jobs that require a college degree, such as engineer, accountant and teacher. Jobs that require a technical credential are firefighter, truck driver, licensed practical nurse, paramedic and heating and cooling technicians.
Anderson said 416 career and technology education bills were introduced across the country in 2018 and 117 new laws took effect, including Oklahoma’s Senate Bill 171.
SB 171 created the work-based learning program to increase the number of registered paid internships and apprenticeships in Oklahoma to 20,000 by 2020.
“There are some states that are looking at things like this, but Oklahoma is kind of on the cutting edge by setting a specific measurable goal,” Anderson said.
Allowing more realworld learning opportunities while in high school helps students decide where they want to go with their careers, he said.
Many states are exploring ways to have 18-year-olds graduate from high school with a diploma and a certification that allows them to go right into the workforce, Anderson said.
Likewise, many states are providing early college and career planning for students at age 14 and 15 “to start trending toward a STEM degree or an education degree or a business degree so they will be in a better spot when they graduate high school.”
The difference can be huge. Fallin pointed out a full-time job for a person with a high school diploma or less pays $33,717 per year, while someone with a bachelor’s degree in a STEM field earns $81,702 per year.
Aligning high school and postsecondary outcomes with workforce needs sounds simple, but it’s “a really hard thing to do,” Anderson said.
There is a big push on longitudinal data systems to make a more seamless pipeline for students, he said. That requires everyone sharing data, which doesn’t happen in Oklahoma.
Coordinating K-12 schools, CareerTech, twoyear colleges and universities makes a lot of sense, Oklahoma State University President Burns Hargis said.
“It’s really a top-tobottom issue. We need to look at the whole thing as a system and see how we can best leverage these assets,” Hargis said. “But every time you start taking stuff like this on, nobody really wants to make the hard decisions.”
Oklahoma’s 25 public colleges and universities need to get serious about a systemwide approach to administrative services and stop trying to protect their own turf, he said.
“There’s no need to have multiple enrollment systems, multiple pension and health care systems, all of these things,” Hargis said. “We’re just very decentralized and we can’t afford that.”
University of Oklahoma President Jim Gallogly agrees the state’s higher education system should be more efficient.
Oklahoma has the second highest number of two-year and four-year institutions and CareerTech schools per 100,000 students in the nation, but graduation rates are in the bottom 10 percent, Gallogly said.
“That means a lot more administration,” he said. “It means a lot more buildings to maintain. It means extra cost to the taxpayer, and sometimes dilution in effort of what we’re trying to accomplish.
“Overall, as a state, we’re going to have to step back and say, ‘Is there something here that’s broken that needs to be fixed?’”
Hargis agrees graduation rates are a problem. The six-year graduation rate is about 30 percent at Oklahoma’s regional universities and about 63 percent at OU and OSU.
Oklahoma employers have to hire graduates from other states to fill many critical occupations.
Fixing the system
“We’ve got to figure how are we going to reorganize the system in the best interest of the students that will promote more graduates,” Hargis said.
Last year’s task force on the future of higher education included quite a bit of debate about the possible closure of campuses, Chancellor Glen Johnson said.
The final report instead recommended moving more institutions under shared governing boards to promote fiscal viability and continued access.
“What we’re recommending is very significant. It involves seven of the 25 institutions,” Johnson said. “We absolutely want to save money and benefit students.”
State funding for higher education has decreased about $300 million over the past four years.
Meanwhile tuition and mandatory fees paid by students has increased steadily. The average increase was 4 percent this academic year, following 5.3 percent last year.
“We just can’t keep cutting the budget and putting the load on debt and students,” Hargis said. “Oklahoma needs more college graduates, so making it more expensive is counter intuitive.”