Special to The Sun
Keeping guns off campuses, completing a goal of increasing degree and certificate holders by 2023 and continuing the successes of Oklahoma’s Promise are 2014 legislative priorities for Higher Education CEO Glen Johnson.
On Friday, Johnson was on the University of Central Oklahoma campus to detail the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education priorities for the upcoming legislative session, which begins Feb. 3.
The state system is comprised of 25 colleges and universities, including two research universities, 10 regional universities, one public liberal arts university, 12 community colleges, 11 constituent agencies and two higher education centers.
It is coordinated by the State Regents, and each institution is governed by a board of regents. UCO, which has more than 17,000 students, is governed by the Regional University System of Oklahoma.
UCO President Don Betz introduced Johnson, noting his involvement in legislative UCO-relevant victories including the endowed chairs program, the higher education bond issue and landmark education reform known as House Bill 1017.
Johnson said the State Regents recognize the times are changing in the country and globally, and that includes rather dramatic changes in higher education. Johnson said the regents have organized a campus security task force to address that issue.
“I think it’s also important to recognize the critical role that we play in our state system in providing our students with safe and secure campuses throughout our system,” Johnson said.
Leaders need to let visiting students and their parents know they are doing all they can to provide a safe environment, Johnson said. The task force is looking at issues including getting the best technology for emergency alerts, Johnson said.
Johnson noted that during the past six sessions, legislation has been introduced or discussed to let students carry weapons onto college campuses. To date, those efforts have been thwarted, Johnson said.
Johnson said the State Regents, all 25 institutions and all governing boards believe there is no scenario where allowing guns on campuses will do anything more than create a more dangerous environment for students, faculty, staff and visitors.
“It will continue to be a top priority,” he said.
Members of the law enforcement community say allowing guns on campuses would create confusion when it comes to telling the good guys from the bad guys, Johnson said.
When it comes to funding, state appropriations for higher education fell from $1 billion in fiscal year 2008 to $943.7 million in FY2011 and then rose to $988.5 million in FY2014, according to the State Regents. State appropriations as a percent of the total higher education budget fell from 74.2 percent in 1988 to 38.7 percent in 2014.
At the same time, enrollment numbers have been climbing. A record 186,067 students were enrolled in the higher education system in academic year 2013. That compares to 177,385 in academic year 2008.
The State Regents are requesting a 7.7 percent increase, $76.3 million more in appropriations for the FY2015 budget. The money would go to items including performance and degree completion goals and intervention to enhance degree completion.
Degree completion goals include more course sections, more online courses, an additional $5.9 million in tuition scholarships, an additional 144 full-time faculty and increased needs for operations, technology, scholarships and library purchases.
Dollars also would go to enhance online education and degree completion technology. The State Regents want to improve transparency reporting of student data tracked by multiple outlets through software development and training.
Campus maintenance is an issue that often is lower on the list of priorities during lean budget years. The regents want funds for upgrading buildings and repairs to sidewalks to meet federal compliance and HVAC improvements for energy efficiency.
Other needs include student services such as academic advisement, career counseling, job placement, veteran services and financial education. Johnson praised UCO for its efforts including opening a full-time veterans affairs office.
Another need is funding more Oklahoma’s Promise scholarships, Johnson said. The program for eighth-, ninth- and 10th-grade students helps pay for college education if parents’ income from taxed and untaxed sources is $50,000 or less at the time the student applies for the program.
Since its creation, nearly 130,000 students have enrolled in Oklahoma’s Promise. An estimated 19,300 students received scholarships this fall.
Johnson said the State Regents also support Gov. Mary Fallin’s America Works initiative, which includes preparing workers for the global economy.
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