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Chancellor's Column - March 2004  

College Construction Projects Benefit Many
1992. That was the year the cold war officially ended, Johnny Carson retired from "The Tonight Show," and the Washington Redskins won the Super Bowl. It was also the last year that there was significant capital construction on most of our Oklahoma public college campuses.

Certainly, a lot has happened on our campuses in the last 12 years. Just think of the hundreds of thousands of students who filled the classrooms, used the labs and lived in the dorms. In 12 years, our institutions have produced about 280,000 degreed graduates, the majority of whom now live and work in our state.

Those graduates can be justly proud of their degrees and their institutions, but not all of the facilities they studied in would generate that same sense of pride. Frankly, some of our facilities are just worn out, others are outdated, and many are simply overcrowded. Access and safety standards have changed over the last dozen years as well, creating the need for redesign and reconstruction.

Our record-breaking enrollment figures are good news for our state's future, but they create increasing challenges for our colleges and universities. In just the last four years, enrollment has increased by more than 20,000 students. It is unrealistic to expect that our aging buildings and infrastructure can hold up without needed improvements.

After a long and careful study of the systemwide requirements, our institutions have worked together to develop a plan that will deal with many of their most pressing construction needs. One hundred forty individual projects in 36 communities throughout the state have been identified. Most of the projects involve classroom renovations or new construction. Other construction includes 16 science or research facility projects and two major library renovations.

With improved facilities, we will be better able to prepare our young people for the highly competitive job market. A better educated workforce attracts new businesses, nurtures existing ones and builds stronger communities.

These construction projects will occur throughout the state and would result in nearly 4,000 additional construction jobs during the lifespan of the projects in rural as well as urban areas. And, after completion, the libraries, fine arts centers and other facilities will be an integral part of the community.

1992 was the last time a higher education construction bond issue was brought to a vote of the people, and it passed with more than 70 percent of the vote. It is my hope that our legislative leaders and the governor will bring a $500 million bond issue for a vote this fall.

Yes, much has changed since 1992, but our respect for higher education and our understanding of the need to improve our campuses have not. More information on these projects is available, and I urge you to contact me with questions.

I would like to hear from you. Write me at OSRHE, PO Box 108850, Oklahoma City, OK 73101-8850 or e-mail chancellorrisser@osrhe.edu. You can find out more about our higher education system at www.okhighered.org.