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Oklahoma lawmakers look to boost community college, CareerTech educations

by Silas Allen Published: October 5, 2012

Oklahoma has plenty of jobs, but the state's residents don't have the skills and training to fill them.

As the economic recovery takes hold and employment grows, the problem is on pace to get worse, state leaders said. The state Senate Education Committee met Thursday with education and commerce leaders to discuss ways to head off the state's looming shortage of qualified workers.

During the interim study session, lawmakers discussed ideas for increasing the number of degrees and postsecondary certificates awarded at the state's community colleges and CareerTech centers.

The problem comes from job growth in particular areas, said Diedre Myers, director of policy research and economic analysis for the state Commerce Department. Only 18 percent of the new jobs created in Oklahoma between 2010 and 2020 will require no postsecondary education, Myers said.

By contrast, she said, nearly 50 percent will require some form of postsecondary education below a bachelor's degree, she said. That category could include associate's degrees and a range of professional certifications. An additional 25 percent of those jobs will require a bachelor's degree, she said.

A large percentage of the jobs created in the state in the years to come are expected to be in fields such as aerospace, information technology and oil and natural gas, said state Secretary of Science and Technology Stephen McKeever. All those fields require a background in areas related to science and technology.

The state is expected to see more than 6,900 jobs created related to science and technology each year for the next 10 years, McKeever said. But only about 4,000 students graduate from state colleges and universities with degrees in those fields per year.

A large percentage of those students come from outside Oklahoma, meaning they're less likely to stay here after graduation. Many come from overseas, he said, and can't remain in Oklahoma after college because of student visa restrictions.

That leaves Oklahoma's economy lacking the workers it needs to drive continual growth.

“We are at a crisis point in the state of Oklahoma,” McKeever said.

Gov. Mary Fallin has made addressing the lack of qualified workers Oklahoma generates a major priority. Last year, Fallin announced an initiative to boost by 67 percent the number of college degrees and postsecondary certificates awarded in the state by 2023.

The goal comes as a part of Complete College America, a national initiative that seeks to boost the number of college graduates in the country. That total would include all degrees awarded at public and private universities, as well as certificates awarded at CareerTech centers.

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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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