Howard G. Barnett, Jr.
President, Oklahoma State University-Tulsa
One of the real strengths of Oklahoma’s public higher education system is its accessibility, not only from an admissions standpoint but, maybe more importantly, from a cost standpoint. Add to those benefits the wide variety of college and university offerings and there really is no reason any high school graduate who wants to go to college can’t find a place that works for him or her.
Let’s look at the many choices available in Oklahoma. Our community college system operates for the most part on an open enrollment system whereby anyone with a high school diploma can get in. The next level is our regional colleges, such as Northeastern State University in Tahlequah with a branch campus in Broken Arrow. If you attained a 2.7 GPA and scored at least a 20 on the ACT, then you are admitted automatically. There are also several alternatives to admission for those who don’t meet these criteria. Our other regionals have similar criteria for admission.
At the University of Oklahoma or Oklahoma State University, our state’s two comprehensive research universities, the admission criteria are higher but reasonable. As with the regionals, there are also alternative admission criteria that can allow admission even when ACT or other minimums are not met.
As far as affordability is concerned, OU and OSU are the lowest overall cost of attendance in the Big 12 and both are regularly cited by various sources as some of the most affordable in the country. A similar story applies at our other colleges and universities. Even if these inexpensive options are too much, Oklahoma does one better with our Oklahoma Promise. If your family income is less than $50,000 annually and you sign up in high school and meet the very reasonable criteria (e.g. take a college preparatory curriculum, achieve at least a 2.5 GPA and keep your nose clean), you can attend any Oklahoma public college tuition-free. There is even a related program that applies to private universities in the state.
Here in Tulsa, through the Tulsa Achieves program, if you graduate from high school in Tulsa County with at least a 2.0 GPA, you can attend TCC tuition-free. And they have a fund which helps with other costs such as textbooks.
Add to all this the availability of grants and loans at affordable rates and the cost of a college education in Oklahoma should not be an impediment to anyone’s striving for their diploma. The benefits of that college degree are significant. Over a lifetime, the holder of a bachelor’s degree can expect to earn over $1 million more than a person with only a high school diploma. Also, the unemployment rate for college graduates is significantly lower. Add to that the personal benefits from having succeeded in attaining the degree and college is a worthwhile goal for everyone.