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March 31, 2004 :: A Capital Bond for Higher Education Also Benefits State

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Colleges and universities across Oklahoma have been busting at the seams lately. Enrollment has increased statewide by more than 20,000 students just in the last four years, which has put a strain on campus buildings and infrastructure. In fact, some facilities are worn out or outdated.

Higher education officials admit that the record-breaking enrollment figures are good for Oklahoma, but they are worried that unless the Oklahoma Legislature approves a $500 million bond issue, the challenges and problems the enrollments have created will only get worse.

If approved by state lawmakers, the bond issue would go before a vote of the people in the fall. It would pay for 140 projects in 36 communities across the state including new and renovated classrooms; infrastructure expansions and upgrades; new or substantially renovated major science and research buildings and fine arts centers; and library renovations. The bond would also allow institutions to meet strict Americans with Disabilities Act requirements and other safety and access codes.

“With improved facilities, we will be better able to prepare our young people for a highly competitive job market,” Chancellor Paul G. Risser said. “A better-educated workforce attracts new businesses and nurtures existing ones and builds stronger communities.”

Risser pointed out that, if funded, the construction projects would also provide a huge economic boost to the state.

Research conducted by the Center for Economic and Business Development at Southwestern Oklahoma State University shows that between 2004 and 2009, the estimated start-up and completion dates for each project, nearly 4,000 additional construction jobs would be created in those communities, both in urban and rural areas. In addition, the construction projects could result in an economic impact of more than $737 million statewide.

“We are hopeful that the Legislature will see the benefits of approving the bond issue and how much of a positive impact it would have on our state’s future. It’s been nearly 12 years since our institutions last benefited from a state bond issue, so something needs to be done and soon.” Risser said.

Oklahoma voters last passed a higher education bond issue in 1992, which included $258 million for higher education projects. Another bond issue passed by state lawmakers in 2000 would have provided about $30 million for capital projects within the state system, but the Oklahoma Supreme Court eventually ruled that bill unconstitutional.