Garrett: Reach Higher benefits adult learners, businesses


Allison D. Garrett

I’m so inspired by adult learners who are writing a new chapter by completing a degree they started earlier in life. I think of Cherie, a young mother to several children, who completed an undergraduate degree and then started work on a master’s degree. Her employment opportunities will provide a better life for her children, but perhaps more importantly, she is a role model to them. Adult students’ stories reflect a wide spectrum of life experiences, like the working student with children, aging parents, and a goal to finish that degree while managing job and family obligations. These students pursue their academic goals, because when you hold a degree, the world gets bigger; more doors are open to you.

More than 400,000 Oklahomans have earned some college credit, but haven’t completed a degree. Engaging these students to return to higher education is an important strategy to increase Oklahoma’s educational attainment. Reach Higher, the state system of higher education’s adult degree completion initiative, provides specialized advising and support systems to help adult students like you or your friends, family members and co-workers return and complete a degree.

Each Reach Higher participant may face barriers like financial challenges, scheduling challenges, and child care needs, but their achievement will yield a significant return on investment for both the individual and Oklahoma businesses. Through 22 public colleges and universities across the state, Reach Higher offers affordable, flexible class options and enrollment periods, and support services to help adult learners finish the degrees they started.

More than 10,000 degrees have been awarded through Reach Higher to date. On average, those graduates will earn over $1 million more than a high school graduate. Reach Higher graduates gain the leadership and communication skills and business knowledge necessary to pursue more career opportunities and meet the employment needs of Oklahoma businesses.

In addition to expanding the career possibilities of individual students, Reach Higher strengthens Oklahoma’s businesses that are critical to our state’s long-term economic viability. As reported by the Oklahoma Office of Workforce Development, of the top 100 critical occupations in our state, more than half require an associate degree or higher. Critical occupations cut across many fields, including computer science, engineering, nursing and education, and each one is significant to our state’s future.

We thank the Legislature for its additional investment in public higher education this year. The State Regents allocated funds to provide scholarships for adult learners nearing degree completion or pursuing industry-recognized micro-credentials or certificates to increase employment opportunities. We’re also grateful to the institutions and business partners supporting Reach Higher students through financial assistance, mentoring and coaching services. Our employer partners represent diverse communities from health care to tribal governments to city leadership. We invite your company to join us as a Reach Higher business partner.

As more adult learners and business partners take advantage of Reach Higher, public higher education will continue to drive economic growth and workforce development while helping individual Oklahomans improve their lives. I’ll be cheering for them all the way.

Allison D. Garrett is chancellor of the Oklahoma State System of Higher Education.

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