Published: April 13, 2017
Times are tough in Oklahoma right now.
The ongoing slump in commodity prices doesn’t just hurt oil and gas companies. It means the state collects less tax revenue, which means cutting services. We see it in our schools, hospitals and other agencies that help people in desperate need.
But it could be worse.
The last time we had a crash, the state was nearly paralyzed. Fortunately, we learned our lesson and helped other industries grow. In Tulsa, we see it in our thriving aerospace industry, which continues to generate revenue.
But the companies building and servicing aircraft can’t continue to succeed in Oklahoma if they can’t find employees with high-tech skills and education.
That is why it is absolutely critical our state government find ways to continue to properly fund our colleges and universities. If Northeastern State University and Tulsa Community College — not to mention my alma mater, Oklahoma State University — absorb drastic funding cuts every year, everyone suffers.
If tuition goes up to cover costs, lower-income students don’t have a chance to get ahead in life. If campuses can’t modernize programs, materials and equipment, they can’t properly train the engineers, IT workers and nurses who power our economy and keep us safe.
Most people in Oklahoma understand this. In a recent survey, 94 percent of residents said they believe there is a strong tie between the number of people with degrees and a strong economy. Three out of four said they think colleges and universities are a good investment. And, 60 percent understand our state simply does not produce enough college graduates.
Despite these numbers, state officials are not listening. In the last three years, more than half of the cuts in the state budget have come from college and university campuses. It is not fair to our students, and it severely degrades our economic potential.
Investing in public college and universities is the single most effective way to ensure our state and our communities can weather hard times and continue to grow.
I have learned in business, you can’t cut your way to prosperity. Strangling the jobs pipeline is not a path to success.
I hope our state’s leaders will join the vast majority of citizens in understanding we cannot let a crisis today kill our tomorrow.
Ed Keller is a director of Oklahoma Tomorrow and a partner in Titan Properties, LLC.