The danger of further cuts to Oklahoma higher education

The danger of further cuts to Oklahoma higher education

  • By: Devery Youngblood

Published: July 1, 2017

Oklahoma has a huge problem. Our state does not produce enough college graduates in engineering, information technology, financial analysis, nursing, management and other economy-changing fields to fill 18,000 jobs we have open now.

Projections show this skills gap will continue to get worse over the next several years. Unfortunately, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is pushing an anti-education campaign that would further exacerbate the situation.

Our group, Oklahoma Tomorrow, was formed by business leaders tired of our state being 49th in everything. Part of our mission is raising awareness about the reality of higher education funding in Oklahoma.

Many people don't realize state government pays only 30 percent of college costs, while students and families carry 56 percent of the burden. This is a complete reversal from 2001, when the state paid 62 percent and families 25 percent.

In short, Oklahoma has created a hidden tax on families. It stands as one of the primary reasons Oklahoma is not keeping pace with the nation, and why employers can't fill critical jobs.

This is a serious problem requiring serious answers based on reality, not ideology. Blindly saying universities can sufficiently train our workforce with less money, as OCPA suggests, ignores basic facts.

The higher education system receives less money today than it did in 2001. Can anyone imagine paying less today for health insurance, utilities or information technology than they did a decade and a half ago? Costs have been rising for colleges and universities, just as they have been for our businesses and households.

Still, OCPA proposes cutting the current funding amount by 46 percent. The group pretends this would not make it harder for students to afford school, and would not limit the programs colleges and universities can provide.

Their methods would require the shutdown of the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center in Oklahoma City and the Oklahoma State University Center of Health Sciences in Tulsa. These are the foremost providers of medical services to the poor and needy.

Engineering and nursing schools throughout Oklahoma are already at capacity. They turn away qualified candidates because the schools cannot afford to buy the labs, technologies and learning tools required to educate modern professionals. Slashing funding would only make things worse.

If we choose not to properly train the people who build bridges, maintain computer networks and save lives, 18,000 jobs will go unfilled, and Oklahoma will fall further behind the rest of the nation.

OCPA's arguments flunk basic math, and they would set Oklahoma up for failure and destitution for generations.

Oklahoma Tomorrow invites all citizens to join us in crafting real solutions to real problems. That is the Oklahoma spirit and the only way we can solve our problems.

Youngblood is CEO of Oklahoma Tomorrow. The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs is a conservative think tank in Oklahoma City.

Read the original op-ed on NewsOK.

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