Enrollment in Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities remained steady for fall 2008. However, since 2004-05, the state’s institutions have experienced a decline in enrollment by 2.2 percent, or roughly 5,000 students (graph 4B). Many campuses are experiencing record or substantial growth in total headcount and first-time freshmen. An expected decrease in the number of high school students, military deployments, the economy and the tightening employment market may impact headcount in future years.
Many students who intend to go to college often do not. As shown in graph 5A, a large majority of middle school and high school students who took the EXPLORE and PLAN tests indicated that they intended to attend college. Additionally, 70.4 percent of Oklahoma high school graduates took the ACT test, signaling intent on their part to attend college. Yet, just 57.4 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, GEAR UP, EPAS and OKcollegestart.org are so important for the state and its future prosperity.
Adult learners have steadily become a factor in the state’s recent surge in college enrollments. There are more than 64,000 students 25 and older who are attending Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities. According to the most recent data, 5.6 percent of 25- to 49-year-olds attend college part-time in Oklahoma compared to the national average of 2.1 percent (graph 5B).
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 482,000 Oklahomans over the age of 25 have some college credit but no degree. The State Regents understand the challenges working adults face in trying to compete in this ever-changing global marketplace. That is why eight of Oklahoma’s regional public universities offer a degree completion program for working adults. Launched in spring 2007, Reach Higher allows working adults who have previously completed at least 72 credit hours a way to finish a bachelor’s degree in an intensive, flexible format. 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. Since its launch in March 2007, Reach Higher has continually grown, with 208 students enrolled in the program in fall 2008. Another 161 students are taking Reach Higher classes that interest them. Overall, enrollment in the program has grown 638 percent since inception. The program celebrated its first graduating class in December 2008 with 15 students receiving Bachelor of Science degrees in organizational leadership.