Oklahoma Tomorrow seeks more higher-ed funding

Chris Day
Oklahoma Tomorrow Chief Executive Officer Devery Youngblood tells Noon Rotary members that the jobs Oklahoma needs the most, cost the most. Chris Day/Examiner-Enterprise

Oklahoma needs highly-trained professionals, but state officials don’t have any long-term plans to produce the workforce it needs to stabilize and grow the state economy.

Doctors, nurses, engineers, information technology professionals , financial analysts, managers and teachers are just a handful of the professionals the state needs now and in the future, said Devery Youngblood, Oklahoma Tomorrow chief executive officer.

Oklahoma Tomorrow is a coalition of residents and private-sector leaders who want to ensure higher education is properly funded and produces the graduates necessary to sustain and grow the state’s economy. Youngblood was interviewed Monday.

“We look back into that job-producing pipeline and we see all kinds of problems,” Youngblood said. “Mainly through the colleges and universities not having the resources they need to turn out the critical jobs that we need.”

Oklahoma’s higher education system isn’t producing enough graduates in these areas to fill the jobs now available in the state and anticipated jobs.

“We see a real train wreck coming that we want to try to get ahead of if we can,” he said.

Youngblood has visited 21 of Oklahoma’s 25 higher ed institutions, and plans to visit the other four soon. He said he has learned the certificate and degree programs are available at the state’s career tech, community, regional and state public institutions.

What’s lacking, Youngblood said, is a long-term plan with a financial commitment from the state to develop the workforce.

Oklahoma Tomorrow seeks additional funding for all higher education institutions in the state with an emphasis on increasing spending for highly needed jobs, like IT, engineering, nursing and teaching.

Certification requirements, technology and the required hands-on training makes these programs some of the most expensive to operate.

Engineers, for example, need high-tech labs and health-care professionals need high-tech simulated patients to practice techniques before they treat patients.

Those simulators cost $85,000 apiece, he said.

“The jobs we need the most, cost the most,” Youngblood said. “Budget cuts have left no room to expand or upgrade labs or other infrastructure.”

The higher education budget was cut 16 percent or $153 million during the 2016 legislative session because of a revenue shortage. The Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education is asking legislators in the upcoming session to restore that funding.

Youngblood realizes the Oklahoma officials will be dealing with an approximately $900 million revenue shortfall when the legislative session opens next month.

He also understands common education, the prison system and other state agencies are asking for more funding.

“We are going to have to figure this out because it’s already causing us problems and what it’s going to do to the future is truly scary,” he said.