State of Education: How Innovative Approaches Can Increase Postsecondary Completion in Oklahoma

By Dr. Laura Latta


A city where every kid has equal opportunity

Those who attended Thursday’s State of Education luncheon walked away with two challenges, one from Mayor G.T. Bynum and one from Dr. Danette Howard, Senior Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer of Lumina Foundation. Mayor Bynum directly addressed the racial inequities in education in the city, sharing the statistics that less than half of all Tulsa students graduate high school with the English and language arts skills necessary to be successful in a postsecondary program and only a quarter of students meet college readiness benchmarks in mathematics. Even more concerning, only 15% of Latin students and 7% of African American students are meeting college readiness benchmarks for math. Those “sobering” statistics, he explained, must be first addressed by Tulsans’ willingness to be transparent in “owning them”, and then finding ways that we can “pull together to address them.” Citing both ImpactTulsa’s Child Equity Index and the Equality Indicator’s Report (from the City of Tulsa and Community Service Council), the mayor explained that data tracking is critical in exposing areas that need improvement a well as illuminating progress being made. Equipped with data and the willingness to be transparent and collaborative, the mayor proposed that a critical goal could be achieved: for Tulsa to be city where every kid has an equal shot at a great life.


As the career landscape shifts, so must education

Dr. Danette Howard of the Lumina foundation brought attention to Oklahoma’s statewide goal of 70% postsecondary program completion by the year 2025. According to the Oklahoma Works 2017 study, only 40% of Oklahoma students complete their postsecondary degree programs. Shifts in the career landscape make an increase from 40% to 70% especially ambitious. Dr. Howard shared a statistic from the Dell report that 85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 don’t even exist now. This means that our education system must be able to adapt to these changes and effectively prepare students for “the jobs of today, the jobs of tomorrow, and the jobs of 2030 that don’t even exist yet.”


Employer-school partnerships are key

Keeping equity in mind, it is critical that these programs meet the needs of all students, equipping them with the skills that they need to be successful in the workforce. Doing this will require innovative approaches like employer-school partnerships that give students work experiences while they are still in school and before they choose a career path. These partnerships contribute to a worker-learner model of education. Such a model, Dr. Howard explained, incorporates some of the following strategies to promote postsecondary program success and career readiness:

  1. Implementation of paid internships for students to support businesses and promote career readiness
  2. The provision of tuition remission or reimbursement for students and employees who want to purse a certification or degree
  3. The formation of partnerships between business and postsecondary providers (colleges, universities, career techs, and certification agencies) to communicate workforce preparation needs
  4. Expansion of offerings of short-term, non-degree credentials for non-traditional students (those who do not go to college directly after high school).

To accomplish ambitious goals like a 30% increase in postsecondary program completion, ambitious and innovative approaches must be embraced. The collaboration among high schools, postsecondary programs, and business leaders will be crucial in ensuring that all students have a fair shot at success after high school.