Students have rich educational opportunities at community colleges in Oklahoma
Photo courtesy of NEO A&M College
There are over a thousand community colleges in the United States serving more than half of the nation’s undergraduate students. Community colleges can be a great stepping stone to a four-year university or a launching pad for a professional career. Rural Oklahomans don’t have to miss out on any of these opportunities because there are exemplary two-year institutions throughout the state that serve local communities, develop leaders, and provide a strong foundation for Okies from all walks of life. In this feature of Oklahoma Living magazine, we highlight a few of these institutions.
Carl Albert State College
Shannen McCroskey, director of marketing and community relations, felt like she was coming home when she took on her new role at Carl Albert State College (CASC). Having graduated from Carl Albert herself, she got a chance to reconnect with the faculty and staff at an institution that helped shape her.
“This job was a good opportunity to have a hand in an institution that opened doors for me,” McCroskey said. “It was also a chance to come back to the community that was close to my heart.”
The school’s name sake, Speaker of the House Carl Albert, was passionate about serving rural Oklahomans and excellence in education. The faculty, staff and administration carry on his enduring legacy.
“We want to better our area and our region, and we so believe in the value of education,” McCroskey said.
Carl Albert State College was recently voted the best community college in Oklahoma. Because of donors and sponsors, as well as the overwhelming support of the surrounding community, CASC continues to grow and develop into competitive higher education. McCroskey encourages students to consider a community college education to jump start their professional careers.
“Don’t let yourself think local mean less,” she said. “These institutions are offering a value to rural Oklahomans. We understand that mindset and the challenges you are going through because we were once in those shoes. The best investment is in yourself and in your education. When you earn that education, no one can take it away from you.”
Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College
One major obstacle for attending higher education is cost. In Oklahoma, the average college student will graduate with upwards of $25,000 in student debt. Attending a community college is a way to dramatically cut down on cost and residual debt. Community colleges in Oklahoma are committed to making college affordable.
Even though higher education suffered funding cutbacks in 2015, Northeastern Oklahoma A&M did not let it affect their mission to keep college affordable. Dr. Jeff Hale, the outgoing president, has grown the NEO development fund since becoming president 11 years ago. He also challenged the community to raise contributions for student scholarships. Because of Hale’s persistence and their contributions, NEO gives out 65 scholarships each year for a total of $140,000.
Photo courtesy of Northeastern Oklahoma A&M College
“The obstacle for students coming to college shouldn’t be money,” Jordan Adams, coordinator of public information and marketing, said. “If a student has the desire and drive to go to college, we don’t want money to get in their way.”
Another focus for NEO A&M is to maintain the growth they’ve achieved and innovate for the future.
“Since we are approaching our centennial, we are looking back but we’re also looking forward,” he said. “Another one of our goals is to look forward and ask ourselves how we can become a college for the future.”
More students are expressing an interest in online courses that are rigorous, challenging and personalized. NEO A&M is known as a location-bound college, but they are also working to create an online learning environment that is well known throughout the country.
Redlands Community College
There is not a lack of unique educational opportunity at a community college in Oklahoma. At Redlands, this is evident in their areas of study, partnerships, internships, and programs.
Because of their proximity to the Agricultural Research Station in Fort Reno and the importance of agriculture in the Redlands, students work closely with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
“In these internships, students are working right at the shoulder of national research scientists at the United States Department of Agriculture,” said Jack Bryant, president of Redlands Community College. “They get a lot of hands-on, applied experience doing that.”
Photo courtesy of Redlands Community College
As part of their agricultural program, they have an aquaponics system. It is a sustainable way of raising fish and vegetables where waste is used to fertilize crops and the runoff from the crops feeds the fish. This patented, environmentally friendly process allows students to create sustainable farming for the future of Oklahoma.
Redlands is also a part of the Industrial Hemp Pilot Project. Industrial hemp was legalized in Oklahoma last year, and hemp is used in many products; Redlands teaches students by working with farmers in the field.
“Our students have hands-on experience working with farmers by testing plants weekly and going out into the field and working in the portable labs,” Bryant said. “It’s a very unique opportunity for our students.”
Redlands’ partnership with NASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, challenges students through a rigorous selection process. This grant from NASA allows students to do local internships. Several of these students end up going to do summer internships at NASA facilities.
These unique opportunities, alongside a degree program, equip students to enter the workforce or for a four-year university after leaving Redlands.
Seminole State College
A positive aspect of going to school in a rural area is the tight-knit bond with the surrounding community. Not only does Seminole State College have a good relationship with the local community, but it has a lasting relationship with a global community.
Seminole State College participates in a cultural and educational exchange program with Denmark. Their partner school in Denmark sends students to Oklahoma twice a year to experience the culture and enjoy everything Oklahoma has to offer. In turn, Seminole sends students to Denmark to learn about the culture and explore a country far from home. In addition to the exchange program, Seminole State College teaches an excellent Global Studies program. Students take a course on global art, business, humanities, or language and then travel to the country they learned about.
Photo courtesy of Seminole State College
As for the local community, the President’s Leadership Class (PLC) gets involved in various ways. The PLC is a two-year scholarship program created to help students develop leadership skills and provide them with personal and professional growth opportunities. They attend monthly forums held by the Seminole Chamber of Commerce and encourage students to get involved with local businesses or events. These students also volunteer within the community throughout their time at PLC. The community is closely connected and appreciates these students’ involvement.
“We have a lot of history in this town and a lot of community support,” Kristin Dunn, director of community relations, said. “You can tell people care. And most importantly, they care about the students.”
Murray State College
“Our main focus is on the students,” said Cole Hackett, Murray State College communication coordinator. “Whether these students are still in high school or have come back to school after many years away, we want to see them provided with education and with opportunities.”
Murray State College enacted a Strategic Plan in 2010 and saw it through to 2016. Their mission was to provide “Opportunities for Student Learning, Personal Growth, Professional Success, and Community Enhancement.” With the main focus on the students throughout the process, the plan was successful.
“From here, you can go anywhere,” he said. “We work with each student and make sure the opportunities are there so they can get a start on the path where they want to end up.”
One of the ways Murray State College succeeds in this plan is by reaching out to the community providing opportunities for students they wouldn’t get anywhere else.
“We have a full-time working farm and a vet-tech program,” he said. “We are one of the only colleges that offers the programs we do right now. We allow students to learn in the classroom and then turn around and apply what they’ve learned.”
Another way Murray State College can see the success from students and rural Oklahoma is from the economic impact assessment the State Chamber does each year.
“We were ranked second highest in return of investment,” he said. “For every dollar appropriated to us by the state, it provides a return of $9.90 that goes straight back into the state economy.”
“We pride ourselves on being the right step for a lot of students,” Hackett said. For rural Oklahomans, Murray State College prepares them for a four-year university or the workforce to positively impact the future of Oklahoma.