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Oklahoma Higher-Ed Chief: Workforce Needs Not Being Met

Allison Garrett, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, said the state isn't producing enough college-educated computer engineers and scientists who can build, code, program and repair technology.

(TNS) — The leader of the state's higher education system suggested Monday that Oklahoma is not meeting growing workforce demands.

Despite painting a dire picture of the state's economic and educational future, Allison Garrett, chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education, said Enid has done well serving the needs of its students at all levels of education to prepare them for the workforce.

"I have so heard so many wonderful things about the cooperative spirit here in Enid," Garrett said at an Enid Rotary Club meeting Monday, her second visit to the area this year, following a state regents meeting in March at NWOSU-Enid. "It is absolutely amazing."

Garrett, who became the first woman to lead the state's higher ed system in 2021, said Oklahomans in what she called the state's "other pipeline" were largely falling behind both during and after high school.

"Our pipeline of higher education is your workforce pipeline, as well," she told Enid Rotarians, many of whom lead major businesses in the area. "This is your pipeline into your workforce."

Oklahoma, one of the several states that administers the ACT exam to all high school seniors, reported 14 percent of high school graduates had met all four ACT area benchmarks to indicate they were college-ready, Garrett said, while 9 percent of students were ready for a STEM program of study.

In March, Garrett had also said that two-thirds of the Oklahoma's projected top 100 critical occupations — high-demand jobs expected to grow in size by 2028 — require at least an associate degree.

More college-educated computer engineers and scientists able to build, code, program and repair technology are needed for the state's growing renewable energy industry, she again said Monday.

"And that's pretty terrifying for a workforce comprised largely of people who did not get college degrees," Garrett said.

She said about 26 percent of Oklahomans have a bachelor's degree, below the 33 percent national average.

Oklahoma higher education increased production by 24 percent of nursing and other health care initiatives in the last decade, she said, despite budget cuts to the state's higher ed system.

"But that's not enough," she said, adding that teachers also are facing a "massive" workforce decline.

She hoped new legislation making its way through the Capitol would be passed to encourage more public K-12 teachers to stay in Oklahoma in their first five years in the classroom, as well as offer scholarships to teaching students in Oklahoma public higher ed systems.

©2022 the Enid News & Eagle (Enid, Okla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.