By ROB W. ANDERSON
Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson believes it’s time for the state to set the national academic curve and maintain a global pace for students entering a competitive economic employment race.
Johnson spoke Monday in the Northeastern State University Center’s Redbud Room to a luncheon group made up of elected and non-elected local and area state legislators and officials, local and area college and university presidents and faculty, and community supporters of higher education.
He presented the 2013 OSRHE agenda, emphasizing the need for college students to complete degree plans; increased access to college-level instruction for more students; and improved quality standards of higher education. He also wanted to make sure when a student graduates from one of the state’s 25 colleges and universities, he or she is prepared and equipped with the tools and knowledge needed to make a lasting mark in today’s international workforce.
“It’s very important to recognize we are seeing significant change nationally, internationally, and certainly there is a significant change going on in higher education as we speak,” Johnson said. “Our message today is that we are not simply reacting to change. We have put forth a very positive, very aggressive game plan that puts us out in front, frankly. Where we’re setting the tempo in reaction to change and not simply just reacting to events that are going on all around us. In many, many areas, you’ll see we’re forming partnerships and forging relationships that will serve our system and our students very well as we go forward.”
Johnson noted that to do this and maintain a neck-and-neck posture with academic systems around the world, education must continue to improve on all of the state’s campuses, not just those of higher education.
“I think one thing that is for sure [is] that the states that are going to be successful in this new knowledge-based global economy will be the states that, No. 1, make a commitment to improve education at all levels – not just the higher ed levels, but the common ed level and the career tech level,” Johnson said.
“[We have to know] whether or not we, as a system of higher education, can assemble the tool’s necessary to put together the kind of workforce that our state needs, which gets us directly to our public agenda in higher education. Sometimes it’s helpful to go back to the basics.”
Johnson, who became chancellor in January 2007 after serving as Southeastern Oklahoma State University’s 16th president for 10 years, said the OSRHE’s to-do list aims to ensure Oklahoma college graduates will experience favorable outcomes when looking for work.
“We have a three-point agenda that is very crisp, is very concise and gets to the very heart of what we’re about in public higher education in the state of Oklahoma. The first is an obligation and responsibility to provide more access to college for more students,” he said.
“I think everyone knows Oklahoma is below the national average in terms of percentages of our citizens with college degrees. So we need to provide more access to students who can achieve, and at the same time, we have a responsibility to continue to improve the quality of our educational product. We do this through a variety of accreditations that occur at all areas of major disciplines. I placed in a report that in addition to meeting the minimum level of accreditation, most of our institutions – through their rigorous programs – have achieved a second, and in some cases even a third level of accreditation.”
The state’s top priority, Johnson said, is increasing the number of college graduates.
“If we’re going to be successful, we’ve got to have more graduates,” he said. “Finally, and our faculty take this responsibility very seriously, as we all do, to ensure that when our students leave our college or university, they are better prepared not only to participate in this global economy, but to succeed. If given the tools to succeed, obviously our faculty provides opportunities for students to develop their analytical skills, their critical thinking skills, and all of this will put them in a position where they can meet the challenges and succeed in today’s economy.”
NSU President Dr. Steve Turner reminded listeners the goal of meetings like Monday’s is to inform elected officials and colleagues about the system’s needs.
“In fact, it is an investment that has returns that cause ripples across our communities,” he said.
“The way to prosperity is through education – whether that be through career tech, a two-year institution or through a four-year institution. So, please, take the message and remember the slide [in Chancellor Johnson’s presentation] that says we need the funding, but even with that, we’re still not back to 2008. So let’s make that effort.”
According to the history of appropriations provided by Johnson, in the fiscal year 2008, the OSRHE budget report noted $1,050 billion to be used for the state’s higher education system.
In 2010, the state regents were given $1,001 billion, while in the 2012 fiscal year, the state’s budget $945 million.