Oklahoma's public colleges and universities exceeded degree completion goals during the last academic year, an official at the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education announced Wednesday.
Although final numbers aren't yet available, public colleges and universities in Oklahoma had more than 1,900 more graduates during the 2011-12 academic year than during the previous year, said Tony Hutchison, the system's vice chancellor for strategic planning, analysis and workforce and economic development.
That figure places the system ahead of the goal of 1,700 additional graduates per year for the next four years.
State higher education officials laid out that goal as a part of Oklahoma's participation in Complete College America, a nationwide college completion initiative. Last year marked the state's first year under that program.
Hutchison announced the totals Wednesday at a meeting of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. Hutchison said he expects the tally to rise over the next three weeks. Colleges and universities continue to report graduation numbers until the system's Oct. 1 deadline, he said.
Three universities still haven't reported their graduation numbers, he said, and all three schools have said they expect their graduation rates to be equal to or greater than last year's totals.
College completion has been an emphasis of state and federal higher education officials in recent years. Glen Johnson, chancellor of the state's higher education system, has called for an additional 20,400 degrees and certificates to be awarded in Oklahoma over the next 12 years.
Johnson said he expects to see the trend continue as the initiative progresses. He pointed to Oklahoma State University's freshman class, which is the largest in state history, as a sign of progress.
Now that the system has positive numbers in hand, Johnson said, he hopes to begin to look for funding to advance the initiative.
Some states, including Georgia, have allocated funding to help colleges and universities improve their completion rates as a part of the initiative. Johnson said he'd like to see Oklahoma lawmakers consider doing something similar.
Although Wednesday's numbers were welcome news, Hutchison cautioned regents against expecting similar results in the years to come. Higher education officials expected the best results in the first year of the program because the agency has begun engaging potential students who had previously received little attention.
“Year one will be the easiest,” he said. “But we're on the right track.”