Record enrollment continues at state colleges and universities

Saturday, March 5th 2005, 11:44 am

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ A record 171,136 students enrolled for the spring semester at Oklahoma's state colleges and universities this year, an increase of slightly more than 1 percent compared to last year.

This is the fourth straight year spring enrollment has broken a record.

``We are very pleased about this increase. It shows that Oklahomans continue to see the benefits of a college education,'' Chancellor Paul Risser said in a statement. ``Having more college graduates in the state is critical for Oklahoma's economic future.''

Increasing enrollment in Oklahoma's public higher education system is one factor Gov. Brad Henry has cited for support of his proposed $500 million capital bond issue that is pending in the Legislature. The proposal includes 140 projects in 36 communities across the state.

On Friday, he again urged lawmakers not to tinker with the proposed project list and to fast-track the bill through the legislative process.

The enrollment hikes are evidence that more wear and tear is being placed on a university infrastructure that already is in need of repair, said regents spokesman Ben Hardcastle.

``That growth (in enrollment) shows that there are tens of thousands of new students using infrastructure that is already overburdened, and that those needs are just going to continue to grow,'' Hardcastle said. He had no specific reason for the increase other than that people are increasingly seeing the value of attending college.

The largest spring enrollment increases were at the state's regional universities, which saw a 2.5 percent hike from spring 2004. Oklahoma Panhandle State in Goodwell topped that list with an 8.9 percent increase, followed by East Central University in Ada at 5.3 percent and Langston University at 5.1 percent.

Enrollment within the University of Oklahoma system, which includes the Health Sciences Center, was up slightly at about 1 percent, bringing the total number of students to 29,666.

Oklahoma State University remained the state's largest system with 30,172 students, but Hardcastle said spring enrollment dipped slightly, by less than 1 percent.

The largest increase was at Northern Oklahoma College in Tonkawa, which recorded the only double-digit increase at 11.1 percent.

The report also shows a 4.1 percent decrease in the number of first-time freshmen enrolled at public colleges and universities. This spring there are 9,544 first-time freshmen, compared to 9,947 for spring 2004.

East Central University and Cameron University in Lawton are the only two institutions in the state that reported increases in first-time freshmen this spring.

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