More than 20 people traveled to the Oklahoma State Capitol to represent East Central University at Higher Education Day Tuesday, Feb. 15. The students, faculty and administration gathered with hundreds of people from other Oklahoma universities and colleges to demonstrate the value and importance of higher education in Oklahoma.
ECU students had the opportunity to visit with Senate Majority Floor Leader Greg McCortney and State Representative Ronny Johns among others. Oklahoma Supreme Court Justices Norma Gurich and Dustin Rowe joined the students for lunch.
“Students, faculty and staff from Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities came together today at our State Capitol to highlight the value of a college degree,” said Regional University System of Oklahoma Chancellor Allison D. Garrett.
The speakers at the Higher Education Session in the afternoon included Governor Kevin Stitt, Secretary Ryan Walters, Speaker Charles McCall, Senator Roger Thompson, Representative Kevin Wallace, Senator Adam Pugh, State Regents Chair Jeffrey W. Hickman, and Chancellor Garrett.
“Among our state’s critical occupations,” Garrett said, “47 of the top 50 highest paying jobs require a college degree. U.S. Census Bureau data show that individuals with an associate degree earn almost $1,000 more per month than those with just a high school diploma, and individuals with a bachelor’s degree earn over $2,000 more per month than high school graduates. Public higher education is critical to strengthening Oklahoma’s economy and building our workforce, and must be a top state priority.”
For the next fiscal year, the State Regents are requesting $40 million for critical workforce development initiatives, including funds to help meet engineering, nursing and teacher education workforce needs, increase physician residency capacity in the state, fund pre-collegiate STEM Summer Academies and provide scholarships for adult students returning to complete their college degree or earn an industry-recognized micro-credential or certificate.
Other priorities include requests to fully fund the concurrent enrollment program for high school seniors and juniors ($4 million), increase investments in need-based financial aid and scholarship programs ($6.85 million), and provide additional funding for system operations ($34.3 million), which will support campus operations and infrastructure; promote collaboration, innovation and efficiency initiatives among institutions; and strengthen the quality and experience of online education.
Another priority for the state system of higher education in the upcoming legislative session will be to maintain the current law regarding weapons on higher education campuses. Oklahoma higher education supports the Second Amendment and gun ownership. Under current law, campus presidents can authorize who may carry weapons on campus. The State Regents and the presidents of all 25 state system institutions strongly believe that the current law with regard to weapons on campus is working.
The State Regents will also continue efforts to preserve the dedicated funding source for the Oklahoma’s Promise scholarship. Recognized by the Southern Regional Education Board as one of the top promise scholarship programs in the nation, Oklahoma’s Promise is considered a national model that combines emphases on academic preparation and financial support for college. Approximately 15,000 students are expected to receive the scholarship in college during this academic year. For more information about Oklahoma’s Promise or to apply online, visit www.okpromise.org.