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University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma struggles to recruit students amid confusion about school's mission

University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma's role as the state's public liberal arts school means the university has a mission to recruit students from across Oklahoma. But enrollment records show 60 percent of USAO's students come from the area near Chickasha.
by Silas Allen Modified: October 6, 2013 at 3:00 pm •  Published: October 6, 2013
/articleid/3890120/1/pictures/2230662">Photo - Columns near the entry of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) on Thursday, October 6, 2011, in Chickasha, Okla.   Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD
Columns near the entry of the University of Science and Arts of Oklahoma (USAO) on Thursday, October 6, 2011, in Chickasha, Okla. Photo by Steve Sisney, The Oklahoman ORG XMIT: KOD

Founded in 1908

USAO was founded in 1908 as a women's college. In 1965, the school began admitting male students. The same year, state officials gave the university the role of a liberal arts school and told USAO officials to raise admissions standards, Feaver said.

But when lawmakers gave the university that new role, they didn't give USAO any extra money to recruit students statewide, Feaver said. So although USAO was a statewide school on paper, it operated more like a regional university, drawing most of its students from the area around Chickasha.

That left the university in a position where its students weren't interested in the kind of education the university was designed to offer, Feaver said.

“We were essentially an open-access institution,” he said.

In 2005, the State Regents and USAO officials launched a plan to turn the university into the liberal arts school that officials had envisioned in 1965.

That plan involved the university gradually raising its admissions standards from 2005-2010. Those new standards made about 40 percent of the students in the Chickasha area ineligible to go to USAO, he said.

As part of that plan, the State Regents gave the university extra funding to help support its new mission. That funding went a long way, Feaver said. But when the recession began in 2008 and state funding for higher education declined, the university didn't always have the resources to continue with that plan, he said. The State Regents were as supportive as they could be in a bad economic climate, he said.

“They're being as generous as they can,” he said.

Today, the university's full-time enrollment stands at just over 900 students. Feaver said he'd like to see that total climb to about 1,200 students in the next few years. But to do that, USAO will need to be able to reach students across the state who would be good candidates for a liberal arts education, he said.

“You've got to have a statewide presence,” Feaver said.

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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