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Oklahoma likely to struggle to produce enough educated workers to keep up with demand, expert says

by Silas Allen Published: August 23, 2012

One of Oklahoma's main challenges in the coming decades will be how it handles its own economic growth, a higher education and business expert said Wednesday.

Richard Petrick, director of the Ohio-based Business Alliance for Higher Education and the Economy, spoke Wednesday at the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber's State of the Schools luncheon.

The issue, Petrick said, is that Oklahoma is facing major growth in its knowledge-based economic sector. While economic growth is an important goal, he said, the state is struggling to produce enough educated workers to keep up with demand.

But Oklahoma is hardly alone, Petrick said — many other states are struggling with similar issues.

“Everyone's talking about this at the state level and the national level,” he said.

Meeting that goal could be a challenge, Petrick said, citing a prediction from Georgetown University's Center for Education and the Workforce that said 57 percent of Oklahoma's workforce would need some kind of postsecondary degree by 2018.

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, only 22.7 percent of Oklahomans held a bachelor's degree or higher in 2009, the most recent year available. Just 7.4 percent of the population held an advanced degree.

Oklahoma's higher education system falls behind the national average in nearly every performance indicator available, Petrick said, including high school to college participation, college participation among low-income students and college completion rates.

The good news, Petrick said, is that an attitude shift toward higher education is taking hold nationwide, including in Oklahoma. States are beginning to look at higher education funding in terms of financing degree and certification completion rather than financing enrollment.

That shift has been felt in Oklahoma, where a major push toward producing more college graduates has been under way since last year.

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by Silas Allen
General Assignment/Breaking News Reporter
Silas Allen is a news reporter for The Oklahoman. He is a Missouri native and a 2008 graduate of the University of Missouri.
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