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September 15, 2004 :: State of Oklahoma Sees Some Improvement in National Report Card

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A national higher education study released today shows progress in Oklahoma in three of five areas measured, with one remaining the same and one declining. Each category has been tracked for several years, and the state of Oklahoma has ongoing programs to address higher education’s performance.

In Measuring Up 2004: The State-by-State Report Card for Higher Education released today by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, Oklahoma’s grades improved in the areas of preparation, completion and benefits. There was no change in affordability and a decrease in participation.

In addition, Oklahoma was one of only five states that was given a “plus” for a new category – “learning.” These states participated in a pilot project that measures how successful higher education is in making sure that actual learning takes place during a student’s time in college.

“This report is one of many different ways to measure the performance of the state system,” said Chancellor Paul G. Risser. “We will carefully analyze all of the results and continue to find ways to improve our overall performance.”

The report sited several strengths, particularly in the areas of preparation, completion and benefits. For example, achievement gaps are widening in many states for minority and low-income students, but not in Oklahoma. In fact, the gains in ACT scores over the past decade are largely due to increases in minority and low-income student score increases. In Oklahoma, African American students consistently outscore their national peers on the ACT, as do American Indian students. Oklahoma’s Hispanic students have done so for the past four years.

The Oklahoma Higher Learning Access Program (OHLAP) also contributes to student preparedness while providing financial aid to students who complete the program’s requirements. Since the 1999-2000 school year, OHLAP enrollment has risen by 200 percent, while completion of the OHLAP curriculum has increased from 61 percent to 69 percent during that same time period. Annually, OHLAP students, on average, score higher on the ACT, have a better GPA, attend college at a greater rate and continue in college at a greater rate than their peer groups. With other highly respected programs and initiatives such as the Educational Planning and Assessment System (EPAS) and Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs (GEAR UP), the structure is in place to make continued improvements.

State officials find the report to be helpful in many ways but are concerned that one of the grades seems to distort the facts and does not portray an accurate picture of performance. The report uses a variety of data sources to reach its conclusions, and the affordability grades are suspect. Nationwide, 36 states, including Oklahoma, received a failing grade in affordability, and only three states made higher than a “D.” In fact, four of the six states surrounding Oklahoma received an “F,” the other two a “D,” The indicators do not take into account many financial aid sources and are susceptible to changes in family income and the overall economy.

Oklahoma’s students benefit from a high-quality education and enjoy some of the lowest tuition in the country, and the state’s campuses are experiencing record enrollment. And, student aid has increased despite state funding for higher education that is $14 million below the 2001 level.

As in other states, tuition has increased in recent years. However, in Oklahoma, student financial aid has increased at a rate three times faster than the total state appropriation for higher education during the past 10 years. Similarly, from 1992-93 to 2002-03, the total amount of tuition waiver scholarships awarded by Oklahoma public institutions increased by 136 percent.

Risser recognizes the importance of continued improvement in all areas measured by the report. “We have shown improvement in several areas and the Legislature has been very supportive of our efforts,” he said. “I think we have every reason to believe that we will continue to make good progress.”

Measuring Up 2004 is the third national report card on higher education. The first was published in 2000.