National studies suggest that the more degree holders there are in a state, the higher the state’s per capita income. U.S. Census Bureau data for 2007 shows that 22.8 percent of Oklahoma’s population 25 years and older have at least a bachelor’s degree, ranking Oklahoma 42nd in the nation, an improvement from our 2000 ranking of 47th, with 20.3 percent. Accordingly, Oklahoma’s per capita income, adjusted for inflation, is $22,540, which is more than $4,100 below the national average.
Although the state has seen slight improvements in these areas, the prospects for the future look brighter (graph 6A). Six-year graduation rates within the state for first-time, full-time freshmen at the state’s research universities increased from 54.7 percent in 1999-2000 to 65.9 percent in 2006-07. At the regional universities, the six-year graduation rate increased from 35.7 percent to 38.9 percent. Three-year graduation rates at the state’s community colleges decreased slightly from 19.5 percent to 18.8 percent during the same period. Graduation rates vary by type of institution due to selectivity and mission. Community colleges have the lowest rates primarily due to open admissions policies and to students working more when the economy is robust.
Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities have recently made significant progress in producing more college graduates. Between 2000-01 and 2006-07, more than 4,600 additional students graduated from one of Oklahoma’s public institutions with either an associate or bachelor’s degree (graph 6B). This increase may be due in part to the State Regents’ Brain Gain initiative, which was launched in 1999. As part of this initiative, the State Regents reward institutions with performance funding for their efforts to increase retention rates on their campuses and graduate more students.Regardless of the gains Oklahoma higher education institutions have made in producing more college graduates, more work is needed to narrow the gap that exists between the nation and Oklahoma.