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RUSO anniversary marks changes and challenges in higher education

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Regional University System of Oklahoma. It was created and elevated to constitutional status in 1948 through a vote of the people to limit legislative control over university issues. I'm proud to say that our universities have grown and evolved to meet the changing needs of our students and workforce.

All six regional universities started at or near statehood as teacher certification schools. Today they are four-year institutions offering degrees ranging from education and pharmacy to forensic science, optometry and aviation. The institutions are nationally recognized for outstanding programs, instruction, research and leadership initiatives.

Our campuses have expanded learning opportunities to remove geographical barriers. Several of the universities have satellite campuses in rural towns and all have or are in the process of placing nearly 80 complete degree programs online. These include bachelor's programs crucial to Oklahoma's workforce needs like nursing, cyber-security, business administration, criminal justice, computer sciences, career and technology education, health sciences and PK-12 education.

Surprisingly what hasn't changed is the struggle for funding higher education. As early as 1912, politicians were attempting to close down or consolidate several colleges--including half of the regional colleges-- to reduce state appropriations. We know that by 2020, 67 percent of jobs in Oklahoma are expected to require some college education. However, only 25 percent of Oklahomans over the age of 25 have a bachelor's degree. The national average is 31 percent. Our mission to serve Oklahomans who want to pursue a higher education is more important than ever.

We stand on the shoulders of all the regents, university officials, faculty and staff in higher education in Oklahoma who have come before us and remained steadfast in the face of even more daunting challenges than we are currently facing. We can build upon their efforts as we keep innovating. I am proud to serve alongside each of you in this work.

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