Garrett: Investing today in tomorrow’s workforce

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Allison D. Garrett

When I think about the future, I think about my lively, 1-year-old granddaughter, a seventh-generation Oklahoman, and what she may grow to be someday. Will she become an engineer who redesigns Oklahoma infrastructure? She loves animals; will she become a veterinarian who powers our state’s farming and agriculture industry? While I can’t know today what she will become, I know for sure that the higher education resources she needs to learn, grow and thrive will be waiting for her when she begins a career path, thanks to the investments we are making today.

I’m grateful for the Oklahoma Legislature’s appropriation of $873.4 million to support our state system of higher education in FY23. It is clear our legislative leaders recognize the critical role our public colleges and universities play in meeting Oklahoma’s current and future workforce needs.

The State Regents earmarked $11.5 million to incentivize Oklahoma’s public colleges and universities to produce more graduates in STEM-related fields among our state’s 100 critical occupations. Funding was allocated to state system institutions for three academic years based on credit hour production and degrees conferred in key STEM disciplines, including engineering, computer science, data analytics, nursing and other high-demand fields. At the end of the three-year period, funds may be reallocated based on a review of performance metrics. These workforce development initiatives will produce talented, financially secure workers who remain in and bring value to our state after graduation.

In addition, $17.4 million of the allocation will fund scholarships for future teachers and employment incentives for new teachers to address our current teacher shortage. Students in an approved teacher education program at our public universities could receive up to $5,500 in scholarships to earn their degree, and new teachers may be eligible to receive a $4,000 retention stipend upon completion of each of the first five years of an employment contract with an Oklahoma public K-12 school district. We’re developing a policy framework to administer this investment in Oklahoma teachers.

States with a higher percentage of college degree-holders have higher per capita incomes and stronger, more diversified economies. These investments will help ensure the economic security of our friends and families. By 2028, 66 of Oklahoma’s 100 critical occupations will require an associate degree or higher, and 47 of the top 50 highest-paying critical occupations in Oklahoma – and all of the top 10 highest-paying critical occupations – will require a college degree. An educated workforce has the capacity to address employer needs and demonstrate the advantages of these careers, inspiring Oklahomans to pursue paths that help our communities grow and individuals meet their greatest potential.

The Legislature’s foresight to invest in public higher education will change Oklahoma’s future. I’m excited to contribute to this important work to advance Oklahoma and proud to help create a thriving state for all our children and grandchildren – whatever they may grow to be.

Allison D. Garrett is chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.