During the past several years, Oklahoma has seen steady enrollment at or near record levels of students at its public colleges and universities. Enrollments have increased by 11 percent, or roughly 24,000 students, since 2000-01 (graph 4A). Many campuses are experiencing record or substantial growth in total headcount and first-time freshmen. An expected decrease in the number of future high school students, coupled with a good state economy, could cause a decrease in headcount in future years.
As gratifying as the recent growth in enrollment has been, our college-going rate is not as it should be. And many students who intend to go to college often do not. As shown in graph 4B, a large majority of middle school and high school students who took the EXPLORE and PLAN tests during the 2005-06 academic year indicated that they intended to attend college. Additionally, 71 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates took the ACT test, signaling intent on their part to attend college. Yet, just 58.6 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates actually enroll in college directly from high school. This discrepancy between students’ intent to attend college and actually enrolling is a concern, especially since the average national college-going rate is higher than Oklahoma’s. This is another example of why programs and initiatives such as Oklahoma’s Promise-OHLAP, EPAS, GEAR UP and OKcollegestart.org are so important for the state and its future prosperity.
There is one group of Oklahomans that has steadily become a factor in the state’s recent surge in college enrollments – adult learners. There are more than 67,000 students above the age of 25 who are attending Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities. According to the most recent data, 3.2 percent of 25- to 49-year-olds attend college part-time in Oklahoma compared to the national average of 2.7 percent (graph 4C).
Often referred to as nontraditional students, these adult learners attend college later in life for various reasons, such as life-changing events, job relocation or just to update job skills. Their continued presence in the higher education arena will play a crucial part in powering Oklahoma’s economy.
The U.S. Census Bureau reports that more than 334,000 Oklahomans over the age of 25 have more than a year of college, but not a baccalaureate degree. The State Regents understand the challenges working adults face in trying to compete in this ever-changing global marketplace. That is why several regional universities in the state system are offering a new adult degree completion program. Launching in spring 2007, the adult degree completion program will allow working adults who have previously completed at least 72 credit hours a flexible alternative to earn a bachelor’s degree. Recent research of students who attended Oklahoma colleges during the last 10 years revealed that more than 69,000 former students currently qualify for the program.