Thursday, August 25, 2011
STILLWATER - Gov. Mary Fallin said she is working on a plan to ramp up the state's economy by producing more college graduates. Her goal: 1,700 more college graduates a year.
"We need a much higher number of college-educated graduates in our state," Fallin told a town hall meeting on the Oklahoma State University campus.
The state currently produces about 27,000 college degrees a year.
Fallin said she will reveal details of the state's part in the Complete College America program next month, but she said it will involve a new emphasis on retaining college students through to graduation.
The program also will address transfer issues between state colleges and work with private employers to make sure state colleges and universities are producing graduates with the kinds of skills they need, she said.
State Chancellor of Higher Education Glenn Johnson, state Education Secretary Phyllis Hudecki and others are working on the plan, Fallin said.
She agreed that asking state colleges and universities to produce more graduates would logically lead to a call for more higher education funding, but she was hesitant to commit to a budget increase, saying savings should be squeezed out of other areas.
The state's future prosperity will depend on its ability to provide a highly skilled workforce, Fallin said.
Only 20 percent of the people in the current Oklahoma workforce have college degrees, but that number will change, she said.
In 2018, Oklahoma will have 87,000 new jobs for college graduates but only 42,000 new jobs for people with only high school educations and 17,000 jobs for those with less than a high school education, she said.
"It's clear how important higher education is to our success," Fallin said.
Thirteen members of Fallin's Cabinet talked about initiatives and answered questions from the public at the event.
State Secretary of Commerce Dave Lopez said education and training are consistent issues on the minds of new business prospects for the state.
"It's all about the workforce," he said. "What we hear from our businesses is: 'We need degree completion.' "
Lopez said economic development and education "are two sides of the same coin."
Hudecki said part of increasing the number of college graduates will be making students accept a more rigorous curriculum in high school and college.
While a high number of high school students say they want to get college degrees, too many are not taking the sort of college-preparatory courses - especially in math and science - that they will need for success in college, she said.
Legislative leaders in the audience were enthusiastic about what they heard from Fallin.
Rep. Lee Denney, R-Cushing, said a big part of increasing the number of college graduates will come by making sure the students who enroll as freshmen complete their courses of study.
Denney is chairwoman of the House subcommittee that oversees education funding.
Sen. Jim Halligan, R-Stillwater, said the state can increase its number of college graduates by targeting out-of-state students.
Halligan, a former OSU president, said out-of-state students more than pay their way in higher tuition and increase the state's future pool of highly trained workers.
By WAYNE GREENE World Senior Writer