Who will be the visionaries for a better educated Oklahoma? According to the state Regents for Higher Education, some 90 percent of the fastest growing jobs in the global economy of the 21st century will require a college degree.
If our state is going to compete for those kinds of jobs, then it will take leadership to give young Oklahomans educational experiences that are wider and more meaningful than in the past. Fortunately, Oklahoma has shown it can be creative and compete with other states through programs that have benefitted thousands of youngsters. One example is Oklahoma’s prekindergarten program, widely regarded as the nation’s best. No state has higher participation in pre-K for 4-year-olds than Oklahoma. Pre-K is particularly helpful for small fries from disadvantaged homes who get little or no educational stimulation before they’re old enough to go to school. Another example is Oklahoma’s Promise. It started in 1996 as the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program, as scholarships for low to middle-income students. Over the past 15 years more than 90,000 Oklahomans have enrolled in the program. The best part: Students participating as early as their eighth-grade year did better in high school and went to college at a higher rate. Both pre-K and Oklahoma’s Promise started with little fanfare. They were created by leaders who understand education is a process that is deliberative and requires great care and persistence. Today these outstanding programs have enriched student learning in Oklahoma. Building on these kinds of successes will determine what opportunities await our state the rest of this century.