In each corner of the state, Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities are contributing to the economic development efforts within their local communities and surrounding areas. From providing business and industry with customized workforce training and education to creating new business opportunities for entrepreneurs who are looking to move their research from the laboratory into the marketplace, Oklahoma higher education is responding to the challenge. A perfect example of these kinds of efforts is the collaborative initiative among the State Regents, colleges and universities, CareerTech and the Oklahoma Hospital Association aimed at addressing the dramatic health care worker shortage.
The State Regents annually provide financial assistance in the form of economic development grants to institutions that encourage partnerships in developing research, innovations and quality initiatives. These focused initiatives can generate new companies and create more jobs in Oklahoma.
Studies show that most regions of the U.S. with strong economies are those with strong research universities. Research conducted at state higher education institutions often creates new businesses that produce new products and services that are key to improving economic development in our state. In Oklahoma, public higher education institutions are heavily involved in research activities that have the potential to make our state, nation and world a better place to live. Focused research in areas such as biotechnology and nanotechnology, energy, aerospace, medicine, sensor technology and weather radar systems are just a few examples.
Several important pieces of the puzzle that are putting Oklahoma on the world map of research and innovation are the Economic Development Generating Excellence (EDGE) project, the $475 million capital bond issue for higher education and the State Regents’ decision to join the National LambdaRail.
The State Regents have played a lead role in developing and implementing EDGE, which was designed by Gov. Brad Henry in 2003 to substantially strengthen Oklahoma’s economy and quality of life. As a result, EDGE has led to the creation of four action plans, including transforming Oklahoma into the Research Capital of the Plains®, of which Oklahoma’s colleges and universities play a big part. The capital bond issue funded 140 capital projects in 36 communities for new and upgraded classrooms, laboratories, student services and other infrastructure. The National LambdaRail is a major initiative of U.S. research universities and private sector technology companies to provide a national computing infrastructure for research and experimentation in networking technologies and applications.
Research funding on college campuses comes from a variety of sources, including grants and contracts through federal agencies such as the National Science Foundation, National Institutes of Health and the Department of Defense. As graph 9A shows, sponsored research at Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities has increased significantly since 2001, due in large part to Oklahoma EPSCoR (Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research). Oklahoma EPSCoR is a partnership among colleges and universities, industry and research institutions. Its mission is to make Oklahoma researchers more successful in competing for research funding.
Oklahoma currently ranks 45th nationally in college and university research dollars per state resident (graph 9B), but initiatives such as EDGE and EPSCOR seek to improve our share of research dollars.