“Higher and vocational education institutions in northeast Oklahoma are collaborative groups that empower families to become self-sufficient; produce highly-educated individuals; provide comprehensive career counseling; achieve higher than state average in job placements; experience well below average dropout rates; and provide cost-effective educational opportunities.”
Higher education opportunities are plentiful and accessible in our Region. Oklahoma also boasts a top ranked vocational education system. Moreover, our regional universities are chartering roles as community partners, focusing efforts on building capacity and supporting community development. Conversely, educational attainment of our population is abysmal. Our regional population is far less likely than other areas of the state and the nation to go to college, much less obtain a bachelor or graduate degree. Our Region exceeds the state and the nation in obtaining high school diplomas, although areas of our Region experience some of the highest dropout rates in the state. The Educational Needs Index lists four counties within our Region as “most critical” and two counties as “critical”.
In addition to general education gaps, our workforce would benefit from improved managerial skills and leadership training. The reality is that a lack of the basic skills required in the workplace keeps far too many of our Region’s citizens unemployed and underemployed. These leadership and managerial skill sets and skill levels are currently not part of the average high school, college, or vocational experience. Many high school students see their high school experience as practically irrelevant to their future – education is oftentimes provided without sufficient connection to the realities of the economy. We must make high school a place where applied learning is part of a continuum on the way to workforce and lifelong learning.
Higher and vocational education discussions focused on three central themes: 1) increased post-secondary education access and attainment, 2) decreased dropout rate in pre-kindergarten through high school, and 3) improved leadership and managerial skills in the workforce. Community deliberations regarding the themes brought forth three results:
1. Post-secondary Education is Available, Attainable, and Realistic for all Communities – in order to be truly successful, we cannot simply have the most skilled labor force; we must be a Region that produces the newest and best ideas, innovations, products, and businesses. Our education delivery can and must be more relevant, better connected to the economy, include improved student options, be increasingly seamless, and be aligned toward high standards.
2. The Dropout Rate in all Levels of Education must Improve Throughout the Region – areas of our Region experience some of the highest dropout rates in the state, particularly between eighth and ninth grade, and our system of monitoring dropout rates leaves much to be desired.
3. Our Population Views Education as a Lifelong Process – we must accept that continued learning is critical to managing personal career paths and maintaining a high quality workforce.