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East Central University in Ada has been selected by the Board of Trustees of the Ardmore Higher Education Center to become the AHEC's partner in developing a proposed branch campus in Ardmore.

The announcement was made during the AHEC board meeting Tuesday in Ardmore.

"It is the opinion of the Board of Trustees," said Mark Cunningham, the board's chair, "that an affiliation with ECU is the best fit for implementing university programs and services in the greater Ardmore area of southern Oklahoma. The vision for a branch campus in Ardmore conveyed to the trustees by ECU is one the trustees enthusiastically embrace."

Two universities, ECU and Southeastern Oklahoma State University, submitted proposals to the trustees.

"We certainly appreciate the confidence that the trustees have placed in East Central University," said Dr. Richard Rafes, ECU's president. "We look forward to bringing a branch campus to Ardmore to provide the area with more educational opportunities.

"Ardmore is an outstanding community and has made a strong case for the need of a branch campus," he added.

Rafes said ECU will continue to work with Murray State College, which will provide the lower-level courses at the branch campus, and with Southeastern Oklahoma State University and Oklahoma State University/OKC which also provide educational opportunities at the center.

The AHEC delivers degree programs to students in southern Oklahoma from ECU, MSC, SOSU and OSU/OKC. Students can take freshman through graduate courses and earn associate's, bachelor's or master's degrees through one of the four institutions.

"Before starting the process of evaluating the case studies submitted by ECU and SOSU, the members of the transition planning committee established that their primary task was not to determine which university, ECU or SOSU, was the best university, but which university seemed to be the best fit for growing and developing higher education in southern Oklahoma," said BeBe Lodes, chair of the committee.

Nearly 1,300 students take courses at the AHEC each semester and enroll in more than 200 courses throughout the year. To accommodate the number of students, the AHEC also uses several classrooms at Ardmore High School for evening classes.

"Since coming to ECU in July 2006," Rafes said, "it was apparent to me that Ardmore deserves a branch campus."

Rafes cited Ardmore's two-time designation as an All-American city; its population of nearly 35,000 people; Carter County's population of nearly 48,000; and the area's business, research and development communities; its commitment to education, community service and civic improvements; facilities such as the Charles B. Goddard Center and the Ardmore Convention Center; and its expanding medical facilities and services.

"I am so pleased that the Ardmore area will gain the benefits of having a university in their city," the ECU president said, "from having a wider choice of degree programs, for further economic development and even additional cultural activities.

"Today, education remains the path out of poverty and toward opportunity," he added. "It is also the route to achievement, enrichment, knowledge and success. I believe education is the best way to achieve financial security, make dreams come true and improve one’s quality of life."

ECU was invited in August to submit a letter of interest to the trustees about establishing a branch campus.

"We provided a comprehensive and realistic analysis of what we think is the path to successfully establish a branch campus," Rafes said. "We appreciate the comprehensive review that the trustees engaged in and their faith in our university."

ECU's undergraduate programs in Ardmore include nursing, criminal justice, counseling and general studies. Master's degrees are available in human resources with options in administration and counseling, and in education with options in school counseling, elementary/secondary school principal, library/media specialization and education technology.

The number of credit hours earned by ECU students in Ardmore has nearly tripled since 1995, Rafes said. Since 2000-01, ECU has had between 455 and 539 students enrolled at Ardmore each academic year. In the summer and fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, 49 students earned master’s degrees through classes at the AHEC, and 30 students earned bachelor’s degrees.

"We have many challenges ahead to make this a reality, the ECU president said, "but we're confident a reality it will be."

He said ECU will build on its long-term and successful relationship with the AHEC and the Ardmore community. The university will work to develop a campus that effectively and efficiently meets the needs of students in the area, the community and the workforce

ECU officials said a number of steps must be completed before the campus is established, including approval by the state Legislature and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and ultimately earning accreditation by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

ECU's proposal calls for ECU @ Ardmore to provide undergraduate and graduate opportunities for at least 2,500 students by 2013, with one or more academic buildings, an administrative and student services building, including a library space, recreational amenities and a student residence hall. A 20-year master plan will be completed with additional buildings and facilities.

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