By Kathryn McNutt
Published: April 20, 2017
Oklahoma is not keeping up with the nation in producing the college-educated workforce needed to be competitive, an economist from the University of Oklahoma said Wednesday in a report to the State Regents for Higher Education.
"Any state that doesn't keep up is going to find itself in trouble," said Robert Dauffenbach, senior associate dean for economic development and impact at the OU College of Business.
Oklahoma ranks near the bottom for the percentage of adults who have an associate degree or higher when compared to bordering states and the nation, Dauffenbach said. Only Arkansas is lower.
Colorado is at the top with 47 percent, while only 32 percent of Oklahoma adults age 25 or older have at least an associate degree.
There are fewer total jobs today for workers with a high school diploma or less education than there were in 1992, Dauffenbach said. Over the same period, employment for people with an associate degree or higher increased from 34.8 million to 67 million workers, or nearly 93 percent, he said.
"These are incredible shifts in the labor force that we've seen in the U.S.," he said.
While Oklahoma has seen some gains, the state is not keeping up, Dauffenbach said.
In Oklahoma, the difference in median annual earnings between workers with a bachelor's degree and those with the least education is $20,000. In Texas and nationally it's $30,000, he said.
The regents have made degree completion efforts their top priority in recent years, but reductions in state funding for higher education have stalled some of those efforts.
The state appropriation for higher education was cut 16 percent last year, or $157 million. The regents requested most of that be restored in the 2017-18 budget, but that appears unlikely because the state is facing a budget hole of nearly $900 million.
Education officials were asked to submit scenarios for a 10 percent, 15 percent and 20 percent cut, said Todd Pauley, legislative liaison for the regents.
Budget negotiations and conversations are ongoing at the Capitol, Pauley said.
"Lots of things on the table. Nothing decided yet," he said.
Chancellor Glen Johnson told the regents a cigarette tax, fuel tax and gross production tax appear to be the revenue measures being discussed the most at this point.