STILLWATER — Oklahoma higher education officials plan to expand a program designed to encourage promising high school students to pursue college degrees.
The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education approved $94,233 in funding to expand the program during a meeting Thursday at Oklahoma State University.
The program brings students from 24 Oklahoma high schools to college campuses during the summer for courses related to math, science, engineering and technology.
The program is funded through grant money from Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs, or GEAR UP, a U.S. Education Department grant program designed to help low-income students go to college.
The program brings students to Connors State College, Redlands Community College and Rogers State University for weeklong summer academies in subjects like natural resources and technology. The students come from 24 high schools across the state that are part of the GEAR UP program.
Higher education officials rolled out the courses last summer after a pilot program in the summer of 2011 was successful, said Jolynn Horn, the system's assistant vice chancellor for GEAR UP.
The program specifically targets students who show potential in math and science, but whose parents might not have gone to college, Horn said. The program is designed to bring those students to campuses to get an idea of what going to college is like.
Students in the program often don't have an idea of how to apply for college, how to navigate the financial aid process or how to choose a school, she said. The program is designed in part to help students become more comfortable with that process.
“That's an easy thing to say, but it's not an easy thing to accomplish,” Horn said.
Gov. Mary Fallin has called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates awarded in Oklahoma over the next 12 years. That goal is a part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative designed to boost college completion.
That initiative focuses particularly on areas related to science, technology, engineering and math. State officials have called for a greater emphasis on science and technology both in K-12 and higher education.
Officials have predicted a large percentage of the jobs the state will create in the years to come will be in fields such as aerospace, information technology and oil and natural gas — all of which require a background in areas related to science and technology.