As chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education, it is my privilege to speak each spring at state college and university commencements, one of our most meaningful academic ceremonies. Each time, I get a clear sense of the hard work and sacrifices that made this achievement possible and am reminded of the tremendous value that a college degree has for individual graduates and for Oklahoma as a whole.
I realize there is debate about whether earning a degree is simply a private gain for the individual or represents a broader public good by providing our state with a better-educated work force. We believe it is both.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, individuals with a bachelor's degree earn $1.1 million more than high school graduates during their professional careers. This fact is not lost on the general public. A recent survey shows that 87 percent of Americans believe a college degree is now as important as a high school diploma was in the past. A persuasive case can be made that a college degree is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.
As more Oklahomans achieve the dream of a college degree, our society benefits in ways documented by multiple sources, including Arizona State University's W.P. Carey School of Business. Their data show that a college degree is associated with more civic participation and lower crime and incarceration rates. Overall health is better, and savings and charitable giving rates are higher as the number of college degrees increases.
It has never been clearer that higher education is key to our state's economic recovery and future growth. In Oklahoma, higher education has an outstanding track record of linking academic programs directly to the needs of business, especially in the areas of wind turbine technology, engineering and aerospace.
During the economic downturn, our state leaders have recognized the personal and public benefits of higher education by making higher education funding a top priority. This has never been more important. In each of the last three semesters, historic numbers of students have enrolled at our 25 public colleges and universities. Since 2008, fall enrollment has increased by 16,077 students. In addition, we are producing a record number of college degrees earned — a 27.4 percent increase over the last decade. All of this is occurring at a time when our institutions have identified $112.3 million in cost savings through energy efficiencies, early retirement options, travel freezes and reductions in supplies and equipment.
This year, we expect to see another record number of graduates receive their college diplomas. We are confident that Gov. Mary Fallin, our Legislature and our colleges and universities will continue to work together to ensure that higher education will have the resources needed to provide our students with a quality education at a very affordable cost. There is not an entity in state government that can help our state meet its stated goals of educational excellence and job development quicker, better or more comprehensively than higher education.