Oklahoma institutions of higher education continue to grow and thrive in spite of the suffering economy, according to the chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.

Dr. Glen Johnson spoke at a meeting of the Ardmore Rotary Club on Wednesday about the current state of higher education in Oklahoma.


Oklahoma institutions of higher education continue to grow and thrive in spite of the suffering economy, according to the chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.
Dr. Glen Johnson spoke at a meeting of the Ardmore Rotary Club on Wednesday about the current state of higher education in Oklahoma.

The chancellor referred often to the “new economy” emerging worldwide, and the importance of education in it.

“Most of the information tells us that the states that are going to be successful in the new economy are the states who will make a commitment to improving education,” he said.

Johnson backed up his statement with statistics, citing a study showing that for every $1 spent on higher education, $5.15 comes back into the state economy.

The chancellor also touted the state’s higher education system’s cost-saving initiatives that will reduce expenses $73.7 million from 2009 through 2011. Those initiatives include energy conservation projects and reductions in administrative expenses in addition to a general hiring freeze and early retirement opportunities.

Those changes and others allowed for a 3 percent budget increase when most other institutions were making cuts, he said. Oklahoma was one of two states last year who froze tuition rates for state schools.

“We were able to do that because Governor Brad Henry and the legislature made higher education a priority,” Johnson said.

He said the basic goals of his organization, Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, are to increase access to and improve the quality of higher education for Oklahomans, increase the number of Oklahomans graduating from college and to better prepare those graduates for the rigors of the new global economy.

Increasing access is paramount, Johnson said, because Oklahoma is still well under the national average for percentage of citizens with college degrees.

“All of the states that have more of their citizens with college degrees are states that have a stronger economy and higher per capita incomes,” he said.

The chancellor said that while 90 percent of surveyed high school students say they want to go to college, less than 60 percent actually go.

“Obviously we have to intervene earlier,” he said.

The initiatives to increase college graduates in Oklahoma include Reach Higher, a degree completion plan for students needing only a few hours to graduate, but left school before finishing.
Another initiative is concurrent enrollment, where high school students can earn college credit before they set foot on a college campus.

“Ardmore Higher Education Center is the poster institution for this initiative in this area,” Johnson said.

Johnson was confident and hopeful for the future of Oklahoma higher education, citing statistics showing the largest enrollment increase in state history last year, with a 31.7 percent increase in first-time freshmen.

“We are making a real dent,” he said. “We are making real progress.”