The 2002 report card for Oklahoma higher education released today by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education shows Oklahoma is continuing to make some headway in preparing students for college and the workforce.
The "2002 Report Card on Oklahoma Higher Education" describes state progress in higher education while providing comparative national figures in areas such as preparation, participation, affordability, completion, benefits, and resources and funding.
"Student success is extremely important to the success of our higher education system and to the state of Oklahoma as a whole," Chancellor Hans Brisch said. "This report card indicates that more Oklahomans are seeing the value of higher education and that the State Regents' efforts to improve student success are paying off."
The Oklahoma report card compares data from 1996 as a baseline and the most recent year available, as well as the national average. Most measures also include a benchmark to the best in the nation and a goal for the year 2010.
In the preparation area, the report card shows that Oklahoma students are remaining steady in their ACT scores, while their national peers have experienced a slight drop. Oklahoma's average ACT score remains at 20.5 in 1996 and 2002, but the national average dropped from 20.9 in 1996 to 20.8 in 2002. Oklahoma's score remains steady despite the fact that more high school graduates took the ACT test in 2002, which typically produces lower scores. The State Regents' goal is for the state's ACT average composite score to be 21.5 by 2010.
Average ACT scores in math increased two-tenths of a point in Oklahoma, from 19.5 in 1996 to 19.7 in 2002. There was more improvement nationally, however, from 20.2 in 1996 to 20.6 in 2002. The State Regents have set a 2010 goal of 20.3 in math.
Brisch notes that many of the State Regents' programs have helped improve student preparation, including the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) and the Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP). He also lauds efforts from the federally funded Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP).
"Academic preparation in the middle schools and high schools has benefited from these foundational programs, programs which have gained new energy from GEAR UP. We expect to see even further improvements in the years ahead, especially if high school students are required to take an extra year of math to graduate," Brisch said.
More Oklahomans attend Oklahoma's public colleges and universities today, according to the state report card. The high school to college-going rate increased from 48 percent in 1996 to 50 percent in 2000. In addition, approximately 90 percent of first-time freshmen are staying in Oklahoma to attend college. Data also reveals that Oklahoma outpaces the nation in the percentage of adults 25-49 years old enrolled in college part-time -- 3.9 percent compared with 2.7 percent. Oklahoma's goal for 2010 is 4.2 percent.
In the benefits category, 5.8 percent of Oklahomans who are 25 years or older have associate degrees, an increase of eight-tenths of a percentage point since 1996, and 20.4 percent have at least a bachelor's degree, up three-tenths of a percentage point. The figures indicate that the State Regents are still making some progress in reaching their Brain Gain 2010 goals of increasing the state's growth rate of college degree holders by 2010 and exceeding the national average. However, with a 2010 goal of 7.0 percent for associate degree holders and 28.0 percent for bachelor's degree holders, the State Regents admit that they are fighting an uphill battle.
"Clearly, we have to do a better job of producing more college graduates in Oklahoma," State Regents' Chairman Carl Renfro said. "When we first established our Brain Gain 2010 goals back in 1999, we knew that meeting those goals would be a challenge. But, we must do everything in our power to reach those goals if we expect our state to be a major economic player in the United State and abroad in the foreseeable future."
In order to meet Brain Gain 2010 goals, higher education officials have implemented several key strategies -- most notably, enhancing OHLAP by increasing the minimum family income requirement from $32,000 to $50,000. Oklahoma's colleges and universities have improved access within the state system by adding more transferable courses each year. In addition, the State Regents approved a Brain Gain funding policy that rewards colleges and universities for improved retention and graduation rates and the number of degrees conferred. The State Regents also appointed the Oklahoma Higher Education Task Force on Student Retention in February 2000 and charged them with studying the state's student retention and graduation rates and recommending initiatives for improvement. In May 2002, the State Regents formed the Student Preparation Task Force, which will provide the State Regents with recommendations that support the academic, financial and social preparation necessary for collegiate success.
The Oklahoma report card shows that the state's public colleges and universities are some of the most affordable in the nation. In fact, Oklahoma's community colleges ranked fourth in the nation in affordability, while the public universities ranked second.
State grant aid to undergraduates as a percentage of federal Pell Grant aid remained at 16 percent from 1998-99 to 2000-01, according to the report card, far below the national average of 44 percent and the State Regents'; 2010 goal of 41 percent. Since FY2000, however, Oklahoma has increased need-based student aid by nearly $5 million or 22 percent.
More Oklahomans are remaining in college and finishing their degrees, according to the report card. At both the comprehensive universities -- Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma -- and the regional universities, the first-year retention rates improved. The state's two-year colleges experienced a slight drop in their retention rates but were still ahead of the national average. Graduation rates for all three tiers improved, from 44.8 to 51.6 percent at the comprehensives, 27.8 to 31.3 percent at the regional universities and from 14.4 to 19.6 percent at the two-year colleges.
"This latest report card reflects the State Regents' commitment to excellence and accountability, and we are well on our way to building a nationally competitive system of higher education. We expect to make even more progress in most, if not all, of the areas measured by the report card in the very near future," Renfro said.
This is the third state report card that the State Regents have published for Oklahoma higher education. The next state report card will be published in 2004. It will then be published every two years to coincide with the release of the national report card and the availability of updated state-by-state information.