Friday, March 22, 2024

Pinnell: Higher education builds tomorrow's workforce today

By Lt. Governor Matt Pinnell

Last Month, I embarked on an Oklahoma Workforce Tour, where I’m crisscrossing the state to talk all things workforce with business owners and local leaders. One topic that regularly comes up is Oklahoma’s higher education system and the integral role it plays in workforce development.  

Our public higher education system is crucial in meeting Oklahoma’s workforce goals. Data from the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development shows that by 2030, over half of Oklahoma’s 100 critical occupations will require at least an associate degree.

While our public colleges and universities increased annual degree production by over 8% in the last decade, Oklahoma’s educational attainment level is well below the national average. We need more citizens with a college degree, especially in fields like teaching, nursing, computer science, and engineering.

As technology evolves, workplace needs follow. Automation growth was significantly accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. By 2025, 30% of work activities in Oklahoma could be automated. Workers with low levels of education are most at risk to lose their jobs.

Oklahoma higher education is also a disruptor in the best way, blazing an innovative trail other states follow. Ours is the first system in the country to create a statewide AI committee for higher education. We also lead the nation in development and delivery of micro-credential programs, and efforts currently underway will make Oklahoma a groundbreaker in how concurrent enrollment is delivered. Through a unique partnership with Boeing, institutions across the state are integrating real-world technical challenges into curriculum at every level – a first in the country approach to embedding real-world challenges from an employer across multiple institutions.

Demand for workers in healthcare and STEM fields is high, with ongoing labor shortages in these sectors. Over the last 10 years, the number of bachelor’s degrees awarded by state system institutions in STEM fields grew 42%, and nursing degree and certificate graduates increased 26%.

It’s not enough, however, to increase the number of college graduates. We need them to stay here – to join our labor force and build their lives in our communities. A data match between OSRHE, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, and the Oklahoma Tax Commission shows that nearly 88% of Oklahomans and more than 61% of non-resident students who earn an undergraduate degree remain here, working, five years after graduation. Though these numbers are impressive, we need to ask, “how do we re-recruit graduates back to Oklahoma?”

That’s why in October 2023, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce launched the Live in Oklahoma campaign, our initiative to recruit young talent in the Dallas Metro area to relocate to Oklahoma. The largest OU and OSU alumni clubs are both located in Dallas, so we are focusing much of our energy at their events. When we bring our homegrown talent back to Oklahoma, it benefits everyone.

Oklahoma’s regional and state universities are economic engines. Public higher education is on the move, and I’m excited for the growing workforce development opportunities ahead.

Matt Pinnell is the 17th Lieutenant Governor of Oklahoma and focuses his agenda on workforce and economic development issues.

Learn more about the many ways your local college or university serves fellow Oklahomans and the business community at


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