April 20, 2017
Group focused on future of higher education in Oklahoma
TAHLEQUAH, Okla. — Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker has joined a statewide task force organized by the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education to examine ways to improve degree completion and increase productivity by focusing on modernization, efficiencies and innovation.
“Oklahoma’s future economic growth depends upon a well-educated workforce and college graduates. The budget crunch on higher education means fewer financial resources than ever, so we have to be smarter about how those dollars are spent,” Baker said.
The task force includes regents, private citizens, college and university representatives, and the designees of the governor, house speaker and senate president pro tem, with representation across the state. Oklahoma's 25 public higher education institutions serve about 414,000 students and have experienced $157 million in state funding cuts this fiscal year and $112 million in state funding cuts last fiscal year. Among the issues to be reviewed by the new task force are:
• College degree completion and initiatives
• Online education models
• Program and faculty sharing
• Fiscal services
• Operational efficiencies and technology
• Academic program innovations
“Increased efficiency in our state-sponsored higher education institutions is critical for our future. We have to ask, are we graduating a workforce with the right kind of degrees and credentials to meet the challenges of an expanding global economy?” Baker said. “I think part of the work of this task force is to look at demands in the Oklahoma workforce and how our schools will fill them going forward in a cost-effective manner.”
Baker has a teaching degree from Northeastern State University, and his mother, Dr. Isabel Baker, is a professor emeritus from NSU and a former regent of Oklahoma State University. State Regent Chancellor Glen D. Johnson and Chairman John Massey recently announced the formation of the new task force and asked Chief Baker to participate. Cherokee Nation, which is the largest American Indian tribe in the United States with 350,000 tribal citizens, has more citizens than ever on Cherokee Nation academic scholarships. Last fall, more than 4,000 higher education scholarships were awarded to Cherokee students. That represents an investment of almost $13 million by the tribe.
“I appreciate the foresight of the state regents to move forward with this initiative, which we believe is the most important undertaking in Oklahoma higher education in three decades,” said Johnson. “Increasing the number of college graduates is critical to individual financial prosperity and to strengthening our state’s economic outlook. We are confident that this task force will produce initiatives to boost excellence, productivity and efficiency.”