Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education meet in Oklahoma City. (Photo by Mindy Ragan Wood/Oklahoma Voice)
OKLAHOMA CITY — Oklahoma’s colleges and universities plan to press lawmakers for additional funding and policies that will allow them to focus on increasing graduation rates in high-demand professions.
In particular, the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education plans to focus on boosting the number of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields.
The board’s goal is to award 100,000 degrees or other credentials in STEM fields and other “critical occupations” by 2030. The latest data shows colleges and universities awarded nearly 4,600 STEM degrees in a year, a board spokesperson said.
While the state’s STEM bachelor degree production rate increased by 42.4% in the last decade, it’s still not enough to meet growing workforce demand for some 100 critical occupations, said Chancellor Allison D. Garrett.
“We pay a lot of attention to the workforce needs in the state,” Garrett said. “We consistently hear that companies in the state, companies looking at the state as a possible location for their operations, are really interested in our STEM workforce.”
Regents, who govern the state’s public institutions of higher learning, also hope to form a business and employer advisory council to keep the board informed on changing workforce needs.
Regent Jeffrey Hickman said the board and staff have listened to colleges and universities and worked with legislators to help “identify what the critical needs are in this next session.”
The board is also recommending new policies that allow workforce partnerships through required internships, research projects or other opportunities that connect students to those fields. Members would also like to get legislative approval to expand access to STEM programs for middle and high school students.
Regents plan to advocate for better faculty pay for programs that would meet the state’s workforce demands along with incentives for students to pursue in-demand majors and remain in Oklahoma.
The Legislature allocated $48.9 million for faculty salary increases in the current fiscal year, board spokeswoman Angela Caddell said. She also said the board is considering asking lawmakers for additional funding next legislative session.
Hickman said pay increases for faculty support staff are also needed.
“What we have not been able to do is free up some dollars for support staff salaries, which are critical to student success as well,” he said.
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