Earlier this year, higher education officials announced public colleges and universities in Oklahoma had more than 1,900 more graduates during the 2011-12 academic year than during the previous year. That placed the state ahead of its college completion goals for the year, even before factoring in CareerTech graduates.
But leaders said Thursday that changes would be necessary to continue that level of growth. Gary Davidson, director of the Oklahoma Association of Community Colleges, said the state's two-year institutions had seen “a tsunami of growth” in enrollment over the past few years.
But during the same period, colleges saw their budgets cut, meaning those institutions are left to educate more students on dwindling resources.
Davidson said he hopes to see the state continue funding for programs that have been successful. Concurrent enrollment through community colleges is one of those programs, he said.
The program allows Oklahoma students to take college-level courses during their junior and senior years of high school, earning them both high school and college credit for the same course. Oklahoma community colleges awarded more than 50,000 credit hours through the program last year, Davidson said.
“It's right in the sweet spot of what we're trying to do with Complete College America,” Davidson said.
Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said the issue of producing skilled workers will be a major challenge for the state in the years to come. The interim study was an opportunity for lawmakers to look at the issue and hear recommendations from key players before the new legislative session begins in January.
Halligan noted that the issue affects his district in particular. Earlier this year, ASCO Industries, a Belgian aerospace company, announced plans to open a plant in Stillwater. The jobs that come with that plant will be a major boon to Oklahoma, Halligan said, but only if it can supply workers qualified to fill them.
“We have lots of jobs, but we don't have people with the requisite skills to do those jobs,” Halligan said. “We need to do something to try to get our skills and the market matched together.”