Oklahoma's involvement in Complete College America began in September, when Gov. Mary Fallin called for a 67 percent increase in college degrees and certificates earned in Oklahoma by 2023. Fallin cited a number of groups who were falling through the cracks, including first-generation college students, transfer students, Hispanic and black students and students from low-income backgrounds.
One of the more important changes to overtake higher education is a rethinking of how student incentives are distributed, Petrick said. Traditionally, colleges and universities hand out financial aid on the basis either of need or merit.
That model is flawed, he said, since merit-based aid generally goes to students who would succeed with or without extra incentives, and need-based aid typically doesn't take performance into account.
Oklahoma's state higher education system is a leader in this area, he said. The system's Oklahoma's Promise gives free tuition to high school students who demonstrate financial need and meet a list of behavioral and academic criteria. Not only does the program offer an incentive for those students to go to school, he said, its parameters help prepare the student to succeed in college.
Because those parameters are in place for the program, he said, the program makes better use of the money the system spends on it — another key factor in improving higher education.
“You can throw a lot of money at problems, and money just disappears down a rat hole,” Petrick said. “You have to spend, but you also have to spend wisely.”