Oklahoma lawmakers and higher education officials hailed an increase in degrees awarded by the state's colleges and universities as a testament to the strength of the partnership between the state higher education system and the private institutions around the state.
Oklahoma's private colleges and universities awarded 1,011 more degrees last year than they did in the 2010-11 academic year, officials from the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education and the Oklahoma Independent Colleges and Universities announced Tuesday.
Private institutions awarded 5,474 degrees last year, according to preliminary data from the state regents.
That total represents an increase of nearly 23 percent from the previous year.
Together, Oklahoma's public and private colleges and universities awarded nearly 3,000 more degrees last year than the previous year. That total tops the state regents' annual goal of awarding 1,700 more degrees and vocational certificates.
Oklahoma higher education Chancellor Glen Johnson said the total is an encouraging result for the first year of the state's degree completion initiative, although he acknowledged the goal of 1,700 more degrees and certificates likely will be more difficult to reach in the years to come.
“Although we're gratified with our achievements in Year 1, this is a 12-year commitment,” Johnson said.
Ed Huckeby, president of Southwestern Christian University in Bethany, said private universities have a key role to play in the initiative.
Private institutions produced nearly 14 percent of the state's college graduates last year, according to state regents data.
Huckeby, the chairman of Oklahoma Independent Colleges and Universities, said that makes the institutions an important part of Oklahoma's higher education landscape.
“We are dedicated to being good partners and collaborating with the public institutions and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education,” Huckeby said. “We feel like this has great potential for the future.”
The state's degree completion efforts are a part of Complete College America, a nationwide initiative to boost the number of Americans with college degrees or industry certificates.
Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said that effort is critical to the state's economic future.
Last July, Belgian aerospace firm ASCO Industries announced plans to open a factory in the former Mercury Marine plant in Stillwater.
That news was welcome, Halligan said, but it highlights the importance of producing enough qualified engineers, technicians and others to keep up with industry demands.
In order to meet those goals, the state will need full cooperation not only from its public colleges and universities, but also from private institutions, Halligan said.
“This is going to be a time of testing for Oklahoma,” Halligan said.
“We have an enormous challenge.”
We are dedicated to being good partners and collaborating with the public institutions and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. We feel like this has great potential for the future.”