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Point of view: Concurrent enrollment a sound strategic investment

Glen Johnson
Glen Johnson

Oklahoma’s future economic growth requires an educated workforce. Twenty-six percent of Oklahomans older than age 25 hold a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared with the national average of 33%. Concurrent enrollment, a key component of our nationally recognized Complete College America strategic plan, is critical to increasing degree completion in Oklahoma.

The concurrent enrollment program allows outstanding high school juniors and seniors to earn college credit at Oklahoma colleges and universities. The program is essential to the effort to close Oklahoma’s educational attainment gap. The state regents’ Task Force on the Future of Higher Education, composed of business leaders, legislators, regents, campus personnel and policymakers from across Oklahoma, conducted a comprehensive evaluation of our public higher education system. Among the bold recommendations designed to boost innovation, embrace new technologies and maximize administrative efficiencies, the task force also recommended expanding the concurrent enrollment program.

Concurrent enrollment strengthens student preparation, reduces family college costs and decreases the time required to complete a college degree. Under the program, eligible high school seniors receive a tuition waiver for up to 18 credit hours of concurrent coursework in the academic year. Delivered via traditional instruction or online on a college or high school campus, courses are taught by qualified faculty providing the student a collegiate experience. Participation in concurrent enrollment has increased nearly 40% in the past decade; in the previous academic year, more than 13,000 students from Oklahoma high schools enrolled in concurrent courses generating over 122,000 student credit hours.

In fiscal year 2018, campuses were reimbursed only 26% of the total cost to deliver concurrent enrollment. The $7.5 million additional appropriation for concurrent enrollment in FY 2019 moved the needle to cover approximately 87% of the cost to our campuses. We greatly appreciate the governor and Legislature’s commitment to funding concurrent enrollment in public higher education’s FY 2020 appropriation, which provided the opportunity for 100% funding of the program for high school seniors.

Given the demonstrated success of concurrent enrollment as a tool to improve college readiness, the state system of higher education’s FY 2021 budget request includes an additional investment to fully fund concurrent enrollment for high school juniors. Full funding of concurrent enrollment for high school juniors and seniors will enhance college accessibility, promote college affordability and produce more graduates to fill the growing number of jobs in our state that require a college degree.

A proven driver of degree completion and ultimately, workforce development, concurrent enrollment is an investment that benefits Oklahoma students, families and employers. Expanding the concurrent enrollment program is one of the most important strategic decisions our governor and legislative leaders can make to continue building a globally competitive workforce in our state.

Johnson is Oklahoma's chancellor of higher education.