Boosting college completion will be the top priority in higher education for the decade to come, Oklahoma's top higher education official told lawmakers Tuesday.
Glen Johnson, chancellor of the Oklahoma State System for Higher Education, spoke at a meeting of the House Appropriations and Budget Subcommittee on Education on Tuesday afternoon.
During the meeting, Johnson briefed lawmakers on Oklahoma's participation in Complete College America, a nationwide initiative that seeks to boost the number of college degrees and certifications awarded annually.
Oklahoma higher education officials hope to see an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma over the next 12 years. To do that, Johnson said, the state will have to focus on recruitment, retention and graduation rates.
For the past few years, he said, Oklahoma has had little trouble recruiting new college students. Last year, the public university system saw its largest enrollment increase in history. But simply recruiting students won't solve the problem if too many of them drop out before graduation, he said.
“That's one leg of the three-legged stool,” he said. “We have to keep them in college, and we have to have them get their degree.”
Johnson said it's also important the system focus on adults who may have a large number of college credit hours but no degree.
One of the system's programs, called Reach Higher, seeks to address that issue by encouraging working adults to return to school.
Oklahoma's involvement in Complete College America began in September, when Gov. Mary Fallin called for a 67 percent increase in college degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 2023. Fallin cited a number of groups who were falling through the cracks, including first-generation college students, transfer students, Hispanic and black students and students from low-income backgrounds.
Remediation slows progress
For the program to be successful, Johnson said, higher education officials will need to focus on a number of areas, including college readiness among high school students and remediation.
Rep. Cory Williams, D-Stillwater, said he was concerned about the level of remediation Oklahoma's college students require. Students pay to take those courses, but they don't count toward any degree program, meaning they may slow a student's path to a degree.
Johnson said he thought it was fruitless to try to blame any one agency or entity for the high level of remediation requirements. The problem could be addressed by boosting college readiness in high school, he said.