Landmark Higher Education
from the desk of Murray State College President Joy McDaniel
April 27. 2017
Landmark Higher Education
There’s a popular ad campaign that recognizes local citizens as landmarks of their communities, and in writing this piece about funding for higher education, I began to wonder what makes someone or something a landmark? Do landmarks change lives; do they give people of different backgrounds a common connection?
In defining a landmark as something or someone that is important and changes lives, I believe Murray State College is a landmark of historic proportions. And just like its sister institutions throughout the state, Murray State College is monumental in the lives of students and communities it serves.
Higher education is of tremendous importance here in rural, southern Oklahoma because it allows students to rewrite their own histories. These are the colleges and universities from which residents have come to expect access and achievement. And not just open-door policies, but actual open doors. These are landmarks of the most important kind.
In a recent opinion piece for the Tulsa World, State Chancellor of Higher Education Glen D. Johnson points out that current appropriations to higher education are below 2001 levels. That funding reality, he says, has set Oklahoma higher education back a generation. A FULL GENERATION!
According to Wikepedia, the definition of a generation is "all the people born and living at about the same time, regarded collectively.” “The average period is generally considered to be about 30 years, during which children are born and grow up, become adults, and begin to have children of their own."
In those terms – or in any terms–the set back of an entire generation is a huge loss.
To illustrate what a 30-year set back looks like, let’s take minimum wage which would revert to $3.35 per hour, paying employees a grand total of $26.80 per eight-hour work day. At that rate, employees would be making $536 per month after four 40-hour work weeks. At current levels of $7.25 per hour, minimum-wage employees make $1,160 in earnings during that same period. Most of us would push back against that kind of reduction in personal finances, so why aren’t we pushing back against the same sort of cuts for funding to higher education?
How can we accept losing a generation’s worth of progress? The short answer is that we cannot accept the unacceptable. We have no choice but to be bold, stand our ground and fight for the educated population Oklahoma deserves.
The need for an educated workforce in Oklahoma already exists and will continue to grow. Statistics show that by 2020 – three short years from now – 67 percent of job vacancies in our state will require the minimum of an associate’s degree or additional postsecondary education and training. Thirty-seven percent of jobs will require an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree or higher. If we don’t have a workforce with required qualifications, how will Oklahoma survive – much less thrive?
Higher education is worth its weight in gold, and it should be the gold standard for Oklahoma. We must protect the integrity of higher education by funding it at the highest levels. We must put our money where our mouths are not only by talking about an educated workforce, but also by creating one.
As those of us who are presidents of these fine institutional landmarks step up to showcase an investment that will continue paying dividends year after year, please combine your voices with ours. Please stand with your local community colleges and universities as we raise our voices to fight for the education and educated workforce this great state deserves.
Call your legislators and tell them that higher education is vital in Oklahoma. Remind them that even pay raises for K-12 teachers will not be enough to see Oklahoma through the coming years.
From personal experience, I realize there IS NO greater equalizer than higher education. For me this is a lesson learned over many years, but it is as true today as it was yesterday and will be tomorrow.
Full funding for community colleges and universities is a necessity for which we all must continue to fight. And fight we will because Oklahoma’s students deserve top-quality higher education at an affordable cost. We should not expect them – or ourselves - to settle for less.
Joy McDaniel, a native of Ardmore, is president of Murray State College in Tishomingo and has worked in Oklahoma higher education for more than 30 years. She serves as chair of Oklahoma’s Two-Year Council of Presidents and is a member of the Oklahoma Governor’s Council on Education.