Over the past several years, Oklahoma's public colleges and universities have experienced record enrollments and produced more graduates in the midst of growing public discussion about the value of a college degree and the linkage between more college degree holders and the strength of the state's economy.
A report released April 3 from the Battelle Technology Partnership Practice, commissioned by the State Chamber of Commerce Research Foundation, Oklahoma Business Roundtable and Oklahoma Department of Commerce, confirms the critical role that higher education plays in driving Oklahoma's economy forward. The study reveals that Oklahoma's public higher education system generates more than $9.2 billion in economic impacts in the state and supports more than 85,000 jobs. Further, the study finds that for every dollar of state appropriations spent on public higher education, $4.72 is returned to Oklahoma's economy. Clearly, this is a significant return on investment for the state.
Oklahoma's state system institutions are the key provider of postsecondary education, enrolling more than 190,000 students and awarding more than 32,000 degrees annually. Gov. Mary Fallin has said that increasing the number of college degree holders in Oklahoma is a top priority, and the comprehensive way state leaders have embraced a degree completion initiative, Complete College America, has led to Oklahoma's designation as a national model for degree completion. In year one, Oklahoma's public colleges and universities reported an increase of 1,934 degrees and certificates conferred, exceeding the target goal by 14 percent.
The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission tells us that 89 percent of our graduates live and work in Oklahoma one year after graduation. One of the primary reasons our graduates are staying in Oklahoma is higher education's efforts to link academic programs more closely to the stated needs of business, particularly in the areas of health care, nursing, engineering, business, aerospace and wind turbine technologies.
Business leaders clearly value higher education. According to the FallinForBusiness.com survey report released last May, the quality of Oklahoma's college and university system is ranked by business leaders as the most important business climate strength in the state. Furthermore, 87 percent of the 5,400 Oklahoma business leaders surveyed indicated the quality of Oklahoma's higher education system was either excellent or good.
In summary, national organizations have recently rated Oklahoma's higher education system as accountable and affordable, and one that greatly benefits the people. A U.S. Chamber of Commerce report released in 2012 ranks the state system of higher education nationally as eighth in system efficiency and seventh in college affordability. The Project on Student Success reported last fall that Oklahoma has the eighth-lowest student debt in the nation.
No entity in state government can help Oklahoma reach its stated goals of educational excellence and workforce development faster or more comprehensively than public higher education. Higher education is indeed the best investment we can make for a vibrant economic future.
Johnson is chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.