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Cole Joint Op-Ed in The Oklahoman: The importance of higher ed research

December 11, 2016
Weekly Columns
The Oklahoman - Congressman Tom Cole and Chancellor Glen D. Johnson
Supporting our higher education institutions and providing adequate resources for them is a priority that Americans can agree on. Higher education is the backbone for American ingenuity and innovation, and Oklahoma is home to many colleges and universities committed to quality education.
Along with groundbreaking research and enhanced learning opportunities, we must recognize that it takes a dedicated team to establish solid programs. From the security officers who keep our campuses safe to the academic advisers who improve student success, each role is crucial to the vitality of our colleges and universities.
Critics continue to refer to “administrative bloat” in higher education, yet in reality, state system campuses have invested significantly more in academics than in administration during the past nine years. Oklahoma public higher education institutions have increased investment in academic services from 75 to 78 percent of total budgeted revenue while decreasing administration costs from 6.6 to 5.7 percent.
Recent criticism has focused on the number of noninstructional staff in higher education, as though these positions contribute less to overall student success. In reality, these positions manage the very systems that support the academic enterprise.
The expansion of in-state health care services provided by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center and the Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences resulted in a combined 67 percent increase in noninstructional staff during the past 15 years, including physicians, clinicians and researchers. In fact, approximately 74 percent of employee growth during that time period is directly tied to health care services and research, both of which are largely supported by nonappropriated dollars, including revenue from medical practice plans, health research grants and private donations.
Growth in noninstructional staff also reflects specific requirements to meet federal and state regulations, such as provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title IX compliance, and other essential functions including financial aid, academic advising, campus safety and security, and student mental health services. In the wake of budget cuts to higher education exceeding $153 million earlier this year, higher education institutions have made every effort to protect these academic and student support services, which are critical to continue reaching our college degree and certificate completion goals through Complete College America.
The value of Oklahoma's state system of higher education cannot be overstated. Our 25 public colleges and universities are projected to bring $666 million in sponsored and federal funding into our state in fiscal year 2017. Funding from out-of-state sources cycles into our economy and bolsters state revenues with dollars that could not be generated without our higher education system.
Simply put, no other entity in state government strengthens economic and workforce development as directly and comprehensively as public higher education.
Cole, R-Moore, is Oklahoma's 4th District representative to the U.S. House. Johnson is chancellor of the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education.